The Canadian Film Institute and the European Union Film Festival have chosen another winner in the film Princess, screening this week at the European Union Film Festival.
Although the film employs a predictable plot line about institutionalization and mental health in the 20th century, the characters are well-developed and charming. Based on a true story, the film follows the adventures of our heroine, Princess, and the adventures of her cast of characters and staff over a period of institutionalization that spans more than four decades. It may seem strange to think that detainees of mental institutions could have adventures, but that is exactly what makes this film unique.
As can probably be interpreted from the title, Princess, with her delusions of royal grandeur, brings a refreshing air to her confinement, the confinement of her peers and the staff. As she endears herself to everyone around her, including the nearby villagers, her caretakers and doctors begin to question what exactly is wrong with this so-called illness?
Throughout her hospitalization, sympathetic caretakers take this question a step further as certain experimental “treatments” become more common and Princess becomes a candidate for them. In viewing Princess as a person rather than a patient, they begin to wonder at the outcomes.
This film is a fascinating exploration of institutionalization in Finland, which has its own unique interpretation of hospitalization. It is also a period piece with a captivating view of real medical debates that were occurring as experimental procedures such as electroconvulsive therapy, new pharmaceuticals and lobotomies were being promoted as wonder cures.
However, the real intrigue of this film concerns Princess and whether a character so compassionate and harmless, even helpful, must be changed? Is our own reality, with its foibles and inferiorities, so much better than Princess’s alternative version?