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voice cast: Thure Lindhardt, Stine Fischer, Fischer Christensen, and Tommy Kenter

director: Anders Morgenthaler

81 minutes (18) 2006
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 4/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
I hold up my hands, guilty as charged, I am often drawn to films for their potential shock value. But when it comes down to it, it must be part of a wider package of excellence or at the very least possess some raw ingenuity. Lars Von Trier's name may not be involved here but Zentropa's success owes a lot to Von Trier's committal to transgression. The company therefore continues to push the envelope and you can almost picture the committee deliberating on which explicit approach to engender this time. Inevitably, it will occasionally reek of desperation. Anders Morgenthaler's Princess is an animation (peppered with a number of vid-cam live action sequences) circling the sex industry and a damaged tot, Mia, the daughter of a porn star Christine, whose excesses finally claim her at the age of 29. Christine's brother, August, by now a priest, abandons his calling to look after the five-year-old, who, it becomes apparent has become the victim not only the casually paraded obscenities of the world to which she has been exposed but has also fallen prey to a paedophile. The villain is Charlie who was closely associated with Christine throughout her career, and with whom August too shares a dark secret. They both knew Charlie as teenagers, and August was able to walk away from him but in so doing he left his sister in the hands of the grand manipulator.

August and Christine had been school age when orphaned in a crash that had been caused by Christine messing around, merrily berserk, kicking the back of the car seat and distracting their parents from the road ahead. The resulting guilt takes her down the auto-destructive route until she reaches a mindset where everything that she produces, including the child, is unclean, corrupt and in itself corrupting. She is a poison spreading outwards. Guilt marbles the film. August, burdened with a terrible sense of responsibility, having allowed first his sister and then his niece to fall into the hands of abusers, must now act and his response is angry, violent and murderous. Charlie's porno empire has to be levelled, and Charlie buried with it.

There has been too much excitement about Princess, talk of its bold brilliance, though I have incredible difficulty identifying the film from the superlatives of others. Though I can appreciate the complexities of the destructive relationships, both intentional and unconscious, the bleak worldview is crippling. The supporters of the film must be quite targeted in their viewing, perhaps restricted to what the festival circuit offers them, which might not include blackly comedic, provocative and subversive animated television like Monkey Dust and Paranoia Agent, both of which are bitingly funny and visually arresting. The animation in Princess is wobblier than Rhubarb's bollocks. The closest comparison in style is Belleville Rendez-Vous, itself a monstrously overrated sago pudding of a film.

Princess makes a mad grab from other cartoon culture. Giving Mia a cuddly rabbit-doll with the propensity for coming to life is a straight rip from Paranoia Agent in which a young female manga designer has created a popular figure which, in its merchandised toy version, provides her with company and support in her following life and career. In Princess, the toy rabbit Multe is a safety gate for the child's confusion and torment. It joins in her gleeful celebration when Mia finally realises that the adult now taking charge of her is benevolent. She is still, however, a long way from understanding how to reciprocate the kindnesses. Multe also identifies for Mia the point at which to bring that in-correctible inner turmoil to an end. The doll turns on her, she unable to leave the doll, which snarls and refuses to come with her, so staking her to the spot as a bomb makes smithereens of the Charlie's porn machine. This conclusion is arrived at clumsily, the circumstances ridiculously contrived. The doe-eyed child appears to have been modelled on the girl in Lilo And Stitch.

The makers occasionally move into live action in memories captured on video from August and Christina's earlier life and the car crash is a clever and lively enough sequence throwing the dramatic moment back into animation. It all, however, heaves of uncertainty with the approach and the process, perhaps mid-production dissatisfaction with the design. It flags up alternative models for the rendering of the tale. Perhaps live action would have been more effective with the Mia and Multe animated into the proceedings. Attempts at offensiveness are just that, tryouts, as in the preposterous visit by August and Mia to Christine's grave to discover that Charlie has literally erected several penis-pillars in what amounts to a necrophiliac bukake tribute to the industry's fallen comrade. The universe of this story is never well enough established that such an installation would be acceptable or possible, even in their cartoon cemetery.

Princess is ludicrous and is yet another example of both Zentropa and Tartan's desperation to titillate and draw in the punters for some peepshow horrors. I am one such sucker, but at least I'm looking for more than flesh and blood, and at least I know when I have been made a fool of.

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