Film Review Princess
Director: Anders Morgenthaler (2006)
For a while I was nearly what I’d call an ‘art house snob’, the type of film ‘fan’ who only watches a film it it’s subtitled, a documentary or directed by Jim Jarmusch. But no matter how I tried I still retained some guilty pleasures, and then one day I came to a realisation, films like Predator, Braveheart, Stop Or My Mum Will Shoot, they’re not guilty pleasures, they’re just pleasures and I’m godless damn proud of that. And you know something, no matter how many people wail about ‘pure cinema’ or how much better ‘art’ cinema is, a hell of a lot more people are gonna get the reference ‘get to the chopper!’ in a bad Austrian accent then are gonna get ‘Total total total totally total total… total providence’. Even if A Scanner Darkly is totally total total totally total total… awesome.
It’d be easy to be an ‘art house snob’ though; you just have such massive resource material. What’s that? You want action? Why here’s a fight scene from Oldboy! Romance? Try this Wild At Heart on for size. Oh you’re looking for Sci-fi? Here, take two Event Horizons every hour and wash down with Timecrimes. James Cameron, George Lucas, Michael Bay you say? Why don’t you know that’s all just homeopathic rubbish, try a Lynch, Almodóvar, Kurosawa or half a Besson instead. It’s really hard to argue with an ‘art house snob’ because as soon as you don’t like one of their films, they throw a list of eight more at you, such is the mass out there. But in that mass I hope even they will admit there is some absolute guff, maybe not on a T3 level, but at least as bad as any Dragonball Evolution or Phantom Menace.
Princess, a Danish animation/quasi manga with real life segments thrown in is an example of this, it isn’t Dragonball Evolution bad or plain old Evolution bad, but it’s bad, I’ll explain why after, but first a plot summary.
August is a Danish missionary who returns home after his sister dies. His sister was a big star in the hardcore porn industry and nicknamed Princess. She has a 5 year old daughter, Mia who hasn’t exactly been sheltered from her mothers work. After discovering the porn bigwigs have moved his sister’s burial patch to a fancy tomb thing, and seeing Mia recognise her mother on the front cover of a porn mag in an ice cream shop (apparently they sell bottom-shelf porn in Denmark’s ice cream shops) August rings the porn big wigs with a simple demand, take all of his sister’s films back and destroy the footage or he’ll punish them. They refuse.
The problem with Princess is that it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be, and its premise is a pretty good example of this. Is it a revenge thriller? If so then that’s a message that porn is wrong right? Except it doesn’t go that far at any point, so is it about loss? Well August never seems to miss his sister so I guess not. Is it an exploration of why people watch this kind of hardcore porn? Nope, the only character we actually see watch porn is August. Is it about family bonds or friendship? It could be, but August seems pretty happy to put Mai into positions of danger and makes no effort to protect her from the wider picture, he does slap a couple of bullies that go too far but that’s about all the protection she gets. See what I mean, there’s no clarity.
The characters are just as confused, take August for example, he’s a missionary, I don’t know many missionaries, in fact I make an effort to avoid them, but I assume they’re pretty normal, nice people who believe in the horribly misinformed message they’re spreading. At first August fits this, he’s quiet and seems unsure of how to bond with Mia. A phone call to the porn industry later and he’s apparently a psycho willing to break a child’s arm, torch a building and draw an elaborate list of his targets.
Let’s break that down for a second, he’s a missionary, but when he rings the porn industry they instantly recognise he’s a psycho. Even though nothing up to this point has been said or done to intimate he’s a psycho, just a confused older brother. Then he breaks a child’s arm for threatening Mia and shows absolutely no remorse, teaching Mia the same trick. Then he’s suddenly an action man capable of taking on a group of security guards etc. So he’s a missionary, a father figure, a man dealing with loss, a bad ass, a neglectful guardian and a morale crusader all in one. It just leaves you confused and unattached to the character, which really just makes him boring.
It would have been so much better if they’d just picked one role for August’s character to play and built around that. Is porn acceptable? Is there a human cost we don’t see? Is it exploitation? Is it black and white or shades of grey? It’s like they tried to cover all these angles at different times, then change their minds without anything more then a few superficial lines that mean nothing because I’ve got no reason to care about whose saying them.
Then there’s the animation style which is just as confused. The characters are drawn with an obvious adult manga influence, something like Blood The Last Vampire, confined to a very real world. But then all this weird stuff like a yellow rabbit bag coming to life and a dove flying around starts to happen and it’s like part way through they watched a Studio Ghibli and threw some of that in there. Then there are the backdrops, they’re pretty much all static computer generations like the boring later episodes of Futurama, and for no reason I can fathom a couple of them are blurred black and white. Was this an artistic thing? They seem randomly placed so maybe it was budgetary but that’s a piss poor reason if it was.
Then there’s a bunch of live action scenes. It’s a clever concept; the idea that whenever August watches a tape of his sister we see it in live action, all done as a single camera video diary that he filmed. There’s some really good framing for a single camera operation, and the handy cam footage gives the scenes a certain charm. But from a plot perspective they make no fucking sense! So August filmed his sister basically being a whore, then for reasons never explained went off to become a missionary. What were they trying to show? That August’s sister was a vibrant edgy girl? That the porn industry destroyed her? That August loved his sister and they were close? That it’s all August’s fault? They’re cool concept scenes, but they do nothing but convolute an already messy plot.
This is my biggest problem with Princess; it has so much potential, there are tons of good ideas here and the plot’s one that you could really sink your teeth into. But it just gets lost by trying to show too much without being judgmental. Why wouldn’t you be judgemental!?! There’s loads of missionary related violence that it never seems to condemn or support, and most of the dialogue seems to be there either to reemphasise the last scene, or lay the foundation for the events in the next. It all just feels really superficial, it’s like Morgenthaler had this great idea, but then watched every Tarantino film and decided that was the way to go, except slower and more animated. (Yes I know Kill Bill Vol. 1 is animated in parts so don’t think you’d be impressive if you emailed me pointing that out, you’d just annoying and very very sad) I don’t want to go any further into the scenes or events because some of you may actually want to watch this film. It was apparently nominated for a Robert award (Danish equivalent of an Oscar) so maybe it’s actually a great film and I’m just missing it. Or maybe you just need to be Danish to appreciate it. Or maybe there just aren’t that many Danish films to begin with and it was token nominated as local faire. All I’ll finish with is that I was disappointed, and the next time an ‘art house snob’ tries telling me only animations like Belle Vue Rendezvous or Persepolis are acceptable forms of animation in modern cinema I’m damn sure countering with this one.
Written By Sam ‘I will catch you even if you are on a mission from god’ McKinstrie