“Princess,” this year’s Directors Fortnight opener, reps “Death Wish” divided by “Hardcore” plus anime: Unfortunately, these equal a distasteful sum total. Danish-Teuton adult-oriented animated pic by sophomore helmer Anders Morgenthaler (“Araki — The Killing of a Japanese Photographer”) tracks a minister on a distinctly un-Christian mission to snuff out exploiters of his dead porn-star sister. Pic takes a high and mighty line on the sex industry, but revels in gory violence. Paradoxically, that might make it appealing precisely to niche market of grind house fans Morgenthaler’s muddled morality condemns. Theatrical prospects won’t be majestic, but pic’s ancillary reign should be wealthier.
Bulk of story is rendered through a pastiche of Japanimation style, with stiff limbed comic-book figures moving through more detailed but stylized CG landscapes, while live-action inserts, shot on deliberately cruddy-looking video, are deployed for expository flashbacks. The thesps voice toon characters and appear in the flesh on screen.
After his only sibling, Christina, a porn star called The Princess (Stine Fischer Christensen), dies from a drug overdose, clergyman August (Thure Lindhardt) arrives at a Danish brothel to take custody of his 5-year-old niece, Mia (Mira Hilli Moller Hallund).
August quickly realizes that Mia has been abused and become prematurely sexualized by exposure to her mother’s lifestyle. Enraged, he demands Paradise Lust, the porn company that made Christina her a star and is owned by Christina’s ex-b.f. Charlie (Christian Tafdrup), recall and destroy every bit of merchandise in which she appeared. Unsurprisingly, the company’s executives fail to comply, and so August adopts a bloodier method of persuasion.
Nastiest scene depicts August encouraging young Mia to smash Paradise Lust’s managing director Preben (Tommy Kenter) in the groin with the spiky end of crow bar out of revenge for molesting her previously. Auds may begin to wonder at this point whether the church to which August belongs is perhaps a sadistic branch of the same sect that spawned Paul Bettany’s self-flagellating monk in “The Da Vinci Code.”
According to helmer’s robustly provocative statement in pic’s publicity material, Morgenthaler believes that “to enjoy a porno film one must either be very dumb or be able to abstract from the fact that one is watching real people.” If that’s the case, it’s a curious choice to tell this anti-porn parable largely through animation, adding fantastical touches like Mia’s stuffed rabbit coming to life, which makes characters seem even less like “real people.”
Use of live-action footage is presumably deployed to compensate for the animation’s distancing effect, but the script’s clumsy incorporation of it makes the plot feel even more contrived than it already is.
The animation itself looks fairly slick, if not anywhere as eye-popping as its Asian exemplars at their best. Character design by Rune Fisker gives everyone, even little Mia, a sinister, morose look, while Fisker’s backgrounds join menace with suburban blandness. Kasper Janus Rasmussen’s sound design deploys silence well and interlaces neatly with Mads Brauer and Casper Clausen’s tinkling score.