Germany has been home to some of cinema’s most demur subjects — most likely due to the amount of atrocities Deutschland has seen and contributed to in our lengthy history. House of the Sleeping Beauties is no different.
Main character Edward, played by director and screenplay adapter Vadim Glowna, is troubled by the deaths of his wife and daughter 15 years prior. Upon visiting longtime confidant Kogi (Maximilian Schell), he is told of a place where young women spend an evening of slumber with older gentlemen. Intrigued, Edwards sets up an appointment and prepares to enter a strange world where women sleep unaware of their bedmates. Existential quagmires occupy Edward, and the home’s nameless Madame (Angela Winkler) tiptoes around any direct answers, playing into Glowna’s philosophical and ethical tale.
Glowna’s blend of noir and philosophy should seem like a natural pairing, but House of the Sleeping Beauties trips over its metaphysical shoelaces while trying to deliver its message. And what exactly is the film trying to say? Unfortunately, it's unclear: the film's message is obscured by its many ambiguities, such as the deaths of Edward's wife and daughter, the mystery of the House of the Sleeping Beauties, and the motivations of the young women there. The plot simply can’t handle the voluminous amount of philosophical dilemma thrown into the mix.
In the magnificent world Glowna has captured, he chooses to let it crumble under existential minutia. What should be the film’s climax — Edward questioning the Madame and the house’s significance — is tossed aside in favor of cheap sexual thrills when Edward is given two women to convalesce with for the evening. Edward, though hung up on the deaths of his wife and daughter, tosses his worries aside and debates whether to break the house's cardinal rule by defiling one of these women or to protect them from whatever evil he continually projects upon the Madame and himself. The entire scene is poorly placed and, as with the other sleazy sequences, halts the film's momentum.
Aesthetically, House of the Sleeping Beauties would stand tall amidst a world of giants. Each shot is painstakingly elegant, absorbing the German landscape and spitting it back out as a seedy but warm background ripe for the mystery noir Glowna has based his vision. Yet that vision is a tangled mess of innocence and guilt, right and wrong, atonement and acceptance — it's unnecessarily confusing. For all its philosophical flash, House of the Sleeping Beauties can’t seem to sync its simple premise with its complex ideas.