A throughline: only three days ago, I complained that Shortbus began and ended with the idea that sex is nice, and married that to Standard Indie Relationship Dramedy Template B-5. Now I've seen Princess, a film in which sex is not considered to be nice at all, and it makes Shortbus look like the finest and most humane work of art in history.

"Sex is not nice" is rather underselling it. In fact, sex is a very bad thing, and a dirty thing, and the worst thing on earth is exposing children to sex, and it's better to let children watch you shoot people in the face with a semiautomatic than to let them accidentally watch homemade pornography.

It may or may not surprise you to learn that it's German.*

The nasty little plot: August is a missionary who comes back from wherever when his sister Christina dies, apparently as a result of some disease she got during her prolific career as a porn star named The Princess. August adopts his niece, Mia, and gets so angry at the evil people who led to his sister's death (especially her first boyfriend/porn studio owner Charlie), that he kills them all violently. V-I-O-L-E-N-T-L-Y. Except for the person who beat and presumably diddled Mia. That person, he lets Mia emasculate with a crowbar. Then she kills him. With the same crowbar.

I certainly don't mind violence, and the violence here is stylized, insofar as this is actually an animated film. Actually actually, it's a German anime film, of all damn things, except it's not very good at anime: the character design isn't very interesting, and the backgrounds are fairly bland. The whole reason anime seems to be invoked is because of its X-Treme reputation: "anime is like, fuckin' violent! Dood, check out that guy's ear getting ripped off!"

(Also, the anime - or really, Japanese - trope of the too-cute child with a cute animal sidekick, in this case a bunny doll with a huge and kind of scary grin, and a Hobbesian tendency to become real from time to time).

Where was I? Right, I don't mind gratuitous violence, in the main. I do mind the hell out of sanctimonious hypocrisy, and that's here in spades. I can't express how often and how clearly the theme is stated: "we must save the children's morality by committing hideous acts of vengeance." The ending makes this even more appalling: August's plans go terribly wrong, resulting in considerable collateral damage, and the result is a nice fuzzy scene where everybody ends up in Heaven with God and all the little angels (rather, everyone ends up at Heaven's beach, for reasons having to do with a tedious motif raised elsewhere in the film).

I don't know if they have fundies in Germany and Denmark, but the whole thing plays like violence porn for Christians (you know, that). Sex is Teh Ee-vil, and anyone whose morality is even slightly deviant from your own deserves to be brutalized. This isn't Mr. Militant Atheist Film Critic talking, this is the film: in one scene before August kills a half-dozen men with his bare hands, he notices a crucifix on one of the men, and takes a moment to thank God for giving him this clear omen that whoop-ass should be unleashed. I'd almost like it to be a commentary on self-deluding Christians of the sort who support torturing Muslims, but the film's moralising tone, and that damn ending, make it pretty clear what the game is.

It's not, mind, that I love pornographers or want to defend child molesters. August's enemies are very scummy people. But to validate his mindless vengeance rampage (as I've said before, I do not care much for vengeance narratives that don't show a toll on the avenger) speaks to the lowest of our nature.

What the film does well, in the interest of balance, is mix animation with live-action video. All of the porn tapes, and some moments that appear to be memories, are video; so is the end. It's not just for show, but actually a really interesting meta-commentary on how videotaping would work in an animated world. Not to mention flipping the idea of "real world" vs. "fabricated world" 180Β° from what we are used to. It's a bold and even revolutionary idea that nearly drags the film's entire visual schema into respectability, and I deeply wish it was in a better film.

3/10