Stine Fischer Christensen
Mira Hilli Mller Hallund
Once upon a time, or so the story goes, celebrated screenwriter William Goldman called his 1973 postmodern fairytale novel ‘The Princess Bride’ (turned in 1987 into a hilarious film by Rob Reiner) because a poll showed that ‘princess’ and ‘bride’ were the two words that pre-pubescent girls found most appealing. So you might expect Anders Morgenthaler’s debut feature, which is called Princess, which is mostly animated, and which is set in Hans Christian Andersen’s native Denmark, to be a fairytale fantasia for little girls.
You would, however, be dead wrong – for while Princess may involve a little girl, as well as a wayward mother who also once was one, it is a dark trawl through the world of pornography where young women are merely the objects and victims of male fantasies (whether about sex or revenge). Not that Princess fully forgets its link to the fairytale form – for here toys come to life, dreams come true, the belle does make it to the ball, and they all, in however bleakly qualified a manner, live happily ever after.
‘Princess’ is the screen-name of Christina (Stine Fischer Christensen), a young woman who has risen to the top shelf of the pornography racket, but sold her soul along the way. After she dies, her brother August (Thure Lindhardt), a priest with a troubled history and anger issues, returns home to collect Christina’s daughter Mia (Mira Hilli Mller Hallund), “a very grown-up five-year-old girl” currently residing in a brothel. Disgusted by the treatment Mia has received, by the degrading images of Christina available everywhere, and by his own sense of impotence and guilt, August decides it is time to take out the trash.
With the young girl in tow, this desperate clergyman sets out to go all Lon on the industry that destroyed his family, aggressively crusading through its ranks until he can find Charlie (Christian Tafdrup) – all at once Christina’s ex-boyfriend, August’s one-time flatmate, and the elusive ‘prince’ of porn. Except that it can be just as harmful exposing such a little girl to violence as to sex, and Princess seems destined, like any skin flick, to end in an explosive climax.
While Princess turns its focus on the male gaze, it certainly makes for some uncomfortable viewing. If the starkly abstract beauty of its animated sequences occasionally serves as an aesthetic distraction from its low themes, then the live-action flashbacks, presented as August’s home videos of his earlier days with Christina and Charlie, anchor everything to a more banal reality, while painfully illustrating how easily innocence can be lost, and how difficult it is to redeem.
As a tale of one man’s haunted quest in a sleazy demi-monde, Princess plays like an animated update of Michael Miller’s Street Girls (1975) or Paul Scrader’s Hardcore (1979) – but Morgenthaler brings unexpected poetry to this hellish vision, finding a place where even the marginalised, the despised and the damned can finally be at peace.
Princess is adults-only animation designed, paradoxically, to disillusion anyone of the belief that the world of ‘adult entertainment’ is in any way alluring or glamorous. A true original.