Emily Browning Bares All in 'Sleeping Beauty'

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Photo Source: AP Photo/Francois Mori
CANNES, France – Emily Browning gets a lot of exposure in the Cannes entry "Sleeping Beauty" — much of it of a kind likely to make an actress uncomfortable.

The 22-year-old Australian stars in Julia Leigh's dark modern-day fairy tale as a student who takes a night job as the slumbering object of older men's erotic fascination.

Browning's character Lucy spends key parts of the movie lying in bed, naked and passive, while men play out their fantasies on her.

"I didn't become as disturbed during those scenes in the sleep chamber as you might imagine," Browning said Thursday at the Cannes Film Festival, where "Sleeping Beauty" is among 20 films competing for the top prize.

"I taught myself to meditate in those scenes. I wasn't present in those scenes at all, so they didn't really have as much effect on me."

"Sleeping Beauty," a first feature from Australian novelist-turned-director Leigh, is dividing opinion at Cannes. Is it a provocative feminist take on male sexuality and culturally ingrained myths, or an exploitative story with an infuriatingly passive heroine?

Browning, who starred in Zack Snyder's female-focused action fantasy "Sucker Punch" — another film accused by some of exploitation — had no qualms about taking the revealing role.

"I felt uncomfortable when I read the script, in the best possible way," she said. "In my everyday life, I'm a little bit nervous and not particularly brave, so I feel if I am brave in my work, then I'm doing something right."

Browning says Lucy is not passive, just perverse.

"I see her almost as a nihilist," Browning said. "She just lets things happen to her."

Leigh drew on fairy tales, classic literature, the Internet sex trade and her own nightmares for the film, which has been given a boost by the support of director Jane Campion, whose film "The Piano" won the Palme d'Or in 1993.

The film is a very personal project for Leigh, who said she doesn't mind if some viewers don't like it.

"I guess I am trying to get under people's skins," she said. "I hope it has a strong impact on the audience one way or another."

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