16 September 2010 | william-t-archer
Moving, funny, tragic, inspiring
I caught this movie a few weeks ago when I went up to Montreal for the World Film Festival, and I was a little shocked at how terrific it was. It's the story of a woman in a mental institution who seems convinced that she is a princess. As the film goes on, she uses this delusion to create a new world for the other asylum inmates that is fuller, deeper and in many ways far more humane than anything the institution offers them. That makes the film sound like something left over from the Sixties -- one of those insufferable movies that scold us all for not being as child-like and simple as the mentally ill. But one of the many pleasures and surprises of Princess is that the director, Arto Halonen, complicates the situation, and brings a remarkable compassion and complexity to his view of all the characters, even the ones who at first seem least sympathetic. This is filmmaking in the Renoir style, where we're not so much pressured to pass judgment as to enter the ever-deepening humanity of people caught up in a very difficult situation. The conflict between the Princess and one of the institute's leaders, for instance, has many different layers to it, and while Halonen's sympathies are clearly with the Princess, he gives the leader his due as a man who wants to do the right thing but is badly misguided in his devotion to the latest medical advances -- shock treatment and lobotomy. Even more strikingly, the film manages to hold onto this complex, humane approach while being tremendously entertaining. The actors, particularly the one who plays the Princess, all find large reserves of humor in their roles, and the relationship between the Princess and her best friend is both exhilarating and, in the end, deeply moving, as it leads towards a terrible tragedy. Yet the final effect of the film is more inspiring than tragic, as Halonen places the life of the Princess and her impact on the mental institution into their long-term perspective. This is really a stunning movie, and you should definitely watch it when it comes to the U.S.