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Given the enduring popularity of Eastern style anime and manga, Denmark probably isn’t the first country to spring to mind when considering adult themed animation. Step forward then Danish director and comic book creator Anders Morgenthaler, whose “Princess” is easily one of the most challenging, thought provoking and entertaining examples of the form in recent years. Now released on DVD through Tartan, the film has already earned itself a cult reputation, having played and won awards on the fantasy festival circuit where it emerged as a firm fan favourite.
The plot is pretty grim stuff, following a priest called August (voiced by actor Thure Lindhardt, who recently had a small role in Sean Penn’s “Into the Wild”), who returns home from missionary work abroad after the drugs related death of his porno-queen sister, the Princess of the title. Grabbing her five-year-old daughter Mia from the brothel owner she was left with, August takes her under his wing and attempts to shelter her from the world and the truth about her mother’s seedy life. Wracked with guilt and gripped by a growing rage at the sleaze and hypocrisy of modern society, the tortured priest begins a crusade to try and wipe out all evidence and memory of his sister’s sleazy career. As he comes to realise the tragic corruption of Mia’s innocence, his mission becomes one of violent revenge and he cuts a bloody swathe through the ranks of pimps and pornographers to reach the man he holds responsible for his sister’s ruin.
“Princess” certainly doesn’t pull any punches in depicting life in the gutter, and is a decidedly provocative affair, openly and plainly tackling themes of drugs, prostitution, religion and child abuse. What makes the film more interesting is that Morgenthaler never allows it to become a simple tale of revenge, and although he does play upon viewer outrage to win sympathy for August and to make his role that of avenging angel, he at the same time adds a certain moral ambiguity.
Certainly, the film never shies away from dwelling upon the brutal and shocking consequences of his actions, and does not simply glorify him as a straightforward hero, bringing shades of grey to both his motivations regarding his sister and the way in which his murderous journey transforms him. As such, the film resembles “Taxi Driver” rather than other more basic tales of vigilantism, offering no real answers and presenting a picture of moral confusion in a degenerating society.
Visually, the film is quite stunning, and while the style of animation may at first seem a little odd and crude for viewers used to Asian anime, it fits the proceedings perfectly. Morgenthaler also works in a fair bit of live action footage, mainly through camcorder memory flashbacks and clips from pornographic videos, and this helps give the film a unique feel. Although things do get a little over-stylised and flashy at times, especially during some of the action sequences, this in itself plays a vital thematic role, being jarringly at odds with the rest of the darker dramatic scenes. The film is fast paced and exciting throughout, with plenty of bloody violence, most of which is genuinely shocking.
This again serves to mark “Princess” as an ambitious piece, and one that is best suited to more open-minded viewers. Though thrilling and visceral, it also packs an intellectual punch is recommended even to those who do not normally enjoy animated features, being far removed from what might traditionally be thought of as a mere cartoon.
Anders Morgenthaler (director) / Anders Morgenthaler, Mette Heeno (screenplay)
CAST: Thure Lindhardt … August (voice)
Stine Fischer Christensen … Christina (voice)
Liv Corfixen … Luder i bil (voice)
Ida Dwinger … Mor (voice)
Mira Hilli Møller Hallund … Mia (voice)