There has been lots of talk about exploitation films lately, thanks in no small part to a certain big budget double feature in celebration of them (I?m talking about Grindhouse, just in case you didn?t know). Despite the fact that it didn?t do too well at the box office, its existence alone is a testament to the persistent popularity of low brow cinema, proving that a certain breed of moviegoer will always want to be entertained via copious amounts of twisted sex and graphic violence. But what about the people on the other side of the camera, those who are being demoralized? What might their friends and families think if they were to catch a glimpse of their loved one being humiliated, stripped naked, and becoming the victim of simulated rape and murder on the big screen, all for our sadistic pleasure?
These are the ideas that Danish director Anders Morgenthaler explores in Princess, his unflinching assault on the ultimate form of exploitation, the hardcore porn industry. What makes this harsh onslaught against filth so distinct is that not only is it in itself modeled after one of exploitation cinemas most notorious subgenres, the vigilante revenge film, but that first and foremost it?s animated in a style akin to a children?s fairytale (no slick looking anime here, this is a straight up cartoon). However, don?t let the execution fool you; this is no film to take the kids to.
August is a priest who must take custody of his five year old niece, Mia, after his sister Christina, better known as the infamous porn starlet The Princess, passes away. He is disgusted to learn just how unhealthy of an environment the child was growing up in, surrounded by lecherous characters and exposed to a constant stream of lewd acts while living in a brothel. He decides to be the decent, moral role model she has never had and provide her with a proper upbringing and wholesome childhood. But with each subsequent example of the loss of her innocence he witnesses (like when she shockingly unzips his fly and reaches into his pants while he?s giving her a bath), his calm demeanor fades and is replaced with a burning anger. Add to that the continuous reminder, even after death, of his sister?s publicized perversions and his feelings of responsibility for the way she turned out and poor August just can?t take any more. He is determined to make things right, and concludes that the only way to do so is to begin a vicious, blood-soaked rampage against Christina?s porn king boyfriend, Charlie, and the empire of smut he built with her image
While some seem to feel that the film is little more than a right-wing attack against pornography, which may in fact be the case, it nevertheless has an incredibly effective ability to get its message across, regardless of your personal moral beliefs. Even the most hardcore pervert has to feel some degree of empathy toward August, whose life becomes absolute turmoil due to events which are completely beyond his control. As with any first-rate revenge film, the actions of the scum-of-the-earth villains are so despicable that the viewer can not help being coerced into rooting for the ?good guy?, whether that?s their natural inclination or not. But what makes this a truly unique and innovative take on the genre is the cartoonish style it?s presented in.
The primarily animated nature (the film does have several flashbacks which switch to live action) provides an interesting contrast to the graphic content, and allows for some fantasy touches (Mia?s doll which comes to life, several dream sequences, etc.) which lend a certain degree of innocence to the brutality and perversion. It works surprisingly well in making the film feel much more accessible than it would with live actors. Somehow, no matter how much disturbing sex and gore-drenched violence the viewer is bombarded with, it just never seems that bad. It?s like Taxi Driver filtered through The Little Mermaid, a combination which is apparently just bizarre enough to make for an exceptionally interesting, one-of-a-kind film experience.
Princess is playing as part of the '07 Philadelphia Film Festival.