By José Sarmiento-Hinojosa

For someone who is not aware of Ado Arrieta’s career, which spans over 50 years and has produced some outstanding avant-garde films such as The Adventures of Sylvia Couski (which is basically a mixture of Mekas’ Walden and Smith’s Flaming Creatures), the ease of manner with which he handles this adaptation of the tale of Sleeping Beauty can be confused with a naive exercise on story-telling, an innocuous practice on futility of a story which could be handled on its many political undertones, breaking apart its narratives to approach the social conflicts that underline his film. However, Arrieta is far too wise and intelligent to follow the common path (specially in a time like this, when everything is politic), and instead, draws a particularly personal, playful and poetic take on Belle Dormant (2016), where a frozen kingdom-inside-a-kingdom is found by the new prince of Letonia, fixated on waking up the damsel in distress and breaking the spell.

Arrieta is far more comfortable recreating the magical, the mere essence of the original Charles Perrault’s tale, placing his camera on seemingly gratuitous rituals like the palace’s ball, where the mixture of music and dance is used as a device to discover some underlying connections (in this case between a fairy and a prince), or the exquisite manner with which he explores the arrival of Prince Egon to the frozen kingdom of Kentz, leading to his final discovery of Rosemund. Even at the peak of the drama, the film feels lighthearted and ethereal, and Arrieta is allowed to play some parallels between the present and the past to achieve some contemporaneity on his story, something that serves him well for updating the tale in modern times, and not dragging it in other directions.

The casting is also outstanding: Agathe Bonitzer and Ingrid Caven are magnificent in their roles of good and bad fairies, while Amalric and Bozon’s delivery is pure deadpan humor. It’s a delivery difficult to digest for the non-initiated, but perfectly in line with what Arrieta’s wants to achieve: a sort of contained yet eccentric take on the idleness of bourgeoisie and a slow permeation of the oneiric and wonder. Arrieta’s film doesn’t pretend to be more than it is: an poetic adaptation (or update) of a classical fairy tale in modern times. It brushes on topics like post-colonialism, preservation , technology and such, but not really; they’re just mentions, updates, communication vessels between the past and the present.

“Children love Belle Dormant for its atmosphere and its lyrics, because it tastes like poetry”. We are thankful for Arrieta and the force of his poetry, a big fuck you to today’s cinema cynicism.

Written and directed by: Adolfo Arrieta
Music: Benjamin Esdraffo, Ronan Martin
Cinematography: Thomas Favel
Cast: Niels Schneider, Agathe Bonitzer, Mathieu Amalric, Serge Bozon, Ingrid Caven,Tatiana Verstraeten, Andy Gillet, Vladimir Consigny
Paraïso Productions / Pomme Hurlante Films
France, 82 min.