Dir: Anders Morgenthaler. Den. 2006. 80mins.
It's a sometimes dazzling curio rather than afully-fledged achievement, but Anders Morgenthaler'sadult animation Princess is certainlyone of the more attention-grabbing items on the Cannes menu this year. Kickingoff Directors' Fortnight, this tale of vengeance in the Danish porn underworldresembles the sort of grim material usually tackled by confrontationaldirectors such as Gaspar Noe,but here it's treated in an animation style inspired by Japanese anime.
Princesswill be a festival talking point, and will travel well as a cult item among loversof anime, particularly in its darker incarnations. Uneven storytelling and arather moralistic tone finally make it less than satisfying, but the filmshould put Morgenthaler in the spotlight, as Belleville Rendezvous did for Sylvain Chomet a few years ago - though it definitely won't win himChomet's family audiences.
A vigilante tale with echoesof Taxi Driver, the film begins with priestAugust (voiced by Lindhardt) returning home to findhis sister Christina (Christensen) busy at the centre of a porn shoot. Sometime later, Christina - a prominent porn star known as "the Princess" - is dead,and a grieving August has come to collect her five-year-old daughter Mia (Hallund) from the brothel where she's been raised.
Settling into a flat withMia, August tries to protect and befriend the girl, but has reckoned withoutthe emotional damage caused by her mother's lifestyle. Increasingly angry, heembarks on a vigilante campaign to punish his sister's exploiters. With Mia athis side, he blazes a brutal trail, leading to Princess's pornographerboyfriend Charlie - but increasingly, he must face up to his own collusion inhis sister's downfall.
Working in cel animation, with live-action video shots interspersed, allowsMorgenthaler to delve into areas that would usuallybe considered unthinkable in a straight live-action film. Most contentious arethe scenes involving little Mia's troubled psyche, and those in which she isdrawn into August's violence. Even in cartoon form, a five-year-old battering apornographer to death with a crowbar is a troubling sight.
Stylistically, the film isextremely stylish, creating a distinctive world of flat surfaces andfinely-textured planes. People are portrayed in a deliberately sketchy manner,owing as much to French bandedessinee as to anime, with Mia standing out as anincongruously cartoonish big-eyed moppet. The visualscreate a sense of a drab Danish urban reality, but contrast it with an elementof hyper-aesthetic delicacy, in such gorgeous set pieces as a pink-tinted stormof blossoms.
Hero August is challenginglyambivalent as he spirals, Travis Bickle-like, into aviolence that makes him no less dangerous than the enemies he protects Miafrom. However, the film suffers from a too-evident moral outrage, with Morgenthaler's avowed anti-porn attitude sometimes blurringwith August's punitive rage. Yet it could be argued that August's brutalchastisement of Charlie's minions comes perilously close to becoming a bloodthirsty quasi-porn in itself.
An anti-climactic finale iscapped by a bizarrely religiose coda. Ultimatelyfrustrating, Princess shows evidenceof an energetic, audacious talent, but a mighty confused one.
New Danish Screen
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Peter Aalbaek Jensen
Mikkel EG Nielsen
Stine Fischer Christensen
Mira Hilli Moller Hallund