A VERY underrated Australian film last year was Sleeping Beauty (Saturday, 9.30pm, World Movies), the brilliant debut feature of Sydney novelist Julia Leigh. An eerie fantasy about the outer limits of sexual gratification in a world of wealthy geriatrics, it won warm reviews from overseas critics after its first showing In Cannes. It’s the story of Lucy (Emily Browning), a university student who ekes out a living doing odd jobs in offices and restaurants (and, in a shocking early scene, submits to having a plastic tube thrust down her throat as part of a medical experiment). Answering an advertisement in a campus journal, she is recruited as a sex worker, installed in a grand mansion and instructed in her trade by the icy, aristocratic Clara (Rachael Blake). As part of her duties, Lucy is regularly drugged while elderly clients do as they please with her sleeping form — the only rule being that penetration is not allowed. Shot in supremely elegant, deadpan style, with superb performances from Browning, Blake and Peter Carroll, this chilling parable, with echoes of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, is haunting, beautiful and supremely sad.
For another weird story of obsession, try Spike Jonze’s Adaptation (Sunday, 8.30pm, Showtime Drama), with a script by Charlie Kaufman, who wrote the delightful Being John Malkovich. Nicolas Cage plays twin brothers — one struggling to write a serious screenplay about an orchid thief (a true story), the other a glib churner-out of formulaic serial-killer movies. Surreal, wildly funny and impossible to summarise, Adaptation is one of the best Hollywood films about Hollywood, with a cast including Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper and Tilda Swinton. And this being my week for the off-beat and oddball, I recommend that fine shaggy-dog story from the Coen brothers, O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Monday, 6.35pm, Showtime Comedy), about three convicts who flee a Mississippi chain gang in the hope of recovering some stolen loot. George Clooney heads the cast in a story loosely adapted from Homer’s Odyssey — loosely being the word for it.
The Thirty-Nine Steps (Thursday, 8.35pm, Fox Classics) is one of two remakes of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic espionage thriller, this one starring Robert Powell, and worth seeing in the absence of the real thing. For those wanting authentic Hitch there’s Spellbound (Saturday, 7.30pm, Fox Classics), about a psychiatrist (Gregory Peck) who takes over the running of an asylum and appears to be no less disturbed than some of his patients. It takes the brilliant but emotionally chilly Dr Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) to get to the bottom of things. Hitch’s preoccupation with psychoanalysis is reflected in some brilliant visual flourishes, including a two-minute dream sequence designed by Salvador Dali.
(MA15+) ★★★★✩ Saturday, 9.30pm, World Movies
(M) ★★★★✩ Sunday, 8.30pm, Showtime Drama
(PG) ★★★★✩ Saturday, 7.30pm, Fox Classics
Rachael Blake, Emily Browning and Peter Carroll in