Friday, September 10, 2010


Prinsessan / The Princess. FI (c) 2010 Art Films. P: Arto Halonen, Alf Hemming. D: Arto Halonen. SC: Pirjo Toikka, Arto Halonen, Paavo Westerberg. DP: Hannu-Pekka Vitikainen - shot on 35 mm - digital intermediate - 2,35:1. AD: Jukka Uusitalo. COST: Ritva Muikku. Make-up: Kata Launonen, Riikka Virtanen. M: Tuomas Kantelinen. A song central to the story: "Caro mio ben" (Giuseppe Giordani). S: Antti Koukonen, Samuli Pullinen, Heikki Innanen. ED: Tuuli Kuittinen. CAST: Katja Küttner = Katja Kukkola (Anna Svedholm née Lappalainen, "The Princess"), Krista Kosonen (Christina, Baroness von Heyroth), Samuli Edelmann (Dr. Grotenfelt), Peter Franzén (Saastamoinen, the war veteran), Pirkka-Pekka Petelius (Kuronen, "the provost"), Paavo Westerberg (Dr. Lonka), Antti Litja (Senior Physician Soininen), Irma Junnilainen (senior nurse Packalén), Paula Vesala (nurse Elsa), Pertti Koivula (lobotomy surgeon), Tapio Liinoja (bank manager Granqvist), Ulla Tapaninen (Iso-Iita). 104 min. Released by Sandrew Metronome Distribution Finland with Swedish subtitles by Markus Karjalainen. Viewed at Kinopalatsi 1, Helsinki, 10 Sep 2010 (day of premiere)

This fiction film is based on a true story, and simultaneously with the film a book on the same person was released, Ilkka Raitasuo and Terhi Siltala: Kellokosken prinsessa [The Princess of Kellokoski]. Helsinki: Like Kustannus, 2010.

The Princess may be the only mental patient in the world to whom a statue has been erected on the virtue of his existence as a mental patient. The statue is on the yard of the Kellokoski psychiatric hospital. Anna Lappalainen (1896-1988) fell ill in the 1930s and soon developed a delusion of grandeur: she was a Princess born in the Buckingham palace, carried to Lapland by a raven.

Following the story of the Princess we witness varying experimental treatments used in the development of psychiatric medicine: straitjackets, freezing showers, mind-altering drugs, electric shocks, and even lobotomy.

The Princess remained immune to the treatments and lived her life in the Princess mode: magnanimous, generous, positive, loving, all sunshine.

Glen Gabbard and Krin Gabbard state in their excellent histories of psychiatry and cinema that save for a brief exceptional period from the late 1950s to the early 1960s cinema films have usually portrayed mental health experts in gross caricature, as characters more in need of treatment than their patients. The stereotypical example is One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest with its Nurse Ratched vs. patient McMurphy antagonism. Since the 1960s balanced views of psychiatrists etc. have been more likely to be seen on television than in cinema films.

Arto Halonen's film seems to start in the familiar stereotypical fashion with hideous psychiatrists who seem to lack elemental everyday talent in psychology. There are even aspects of the mad doctor who relishes in humiliating and hurting their patients. But this is just the starting-point. The film is also a sketch of the development of psychiatric treatments towards the modern methods in dealing with the terra incognita of the disturbed human mind.

This film is interesting because it raises fundamental questions about life and the roles we are playing.

Katja Küttner (Katja Kukkola) carries the difficult and fascinating main role. Samuli Edelmann has the thankless role of the stereotyped doctor Grotenfelt without any redeeming features.

Krista Kosonen stands out as the real blue-blooded patient. Pirkka-Pekka Petelius is memorable as "the provost" whose counter-sermon at the church is more profound than the actual priest's liturgy. He sacrifices himself by receiving lobotomy instead of the Princess and becomes a vegetable. Peter Franzén as the mentally disturbed veteran is a reminder of the casualties of the Second World War. Tapio Liinoja portrays the bank manager who has the wisdom of providing The Princess with a checkbook of toy money with which she brings a lot of joy to the whole Kellokoski community and inspires even actual business.

I like the ending of this film. The Princess wakes up and states "I am Anna Lappalainen". Dr. Grotenfelt hears in his mind "Caro mio ben", the signature song of the real Baroness and "the Princess of the hearts".

Although The Princess has been shot on film, there is unfortunately a heavy digital intermediate look. I miss the warmth of colour and light.

The screening was well attended, and the audience was tangibly moved.

PS. In the Cinema and Psyche symposium 15-16 Oct, 2010, I asked from the cinema audience full with specialists of mental health about their views on the Princess. There was little reaction, and of course I should have understood that the doctor's professional confidentiality remains forever. But I sensed that the professionals were offended by the caricature "Dr. Grotenfelt" (no counterpart in reality) and the rosy shades through with the Princess was portrayed (she was not the talented singer heard in the film, and so on).

PS 31 Oct 2010. Probably Prinsessa finally also falls to the typical caricature mode as identified by the Gabbards. The doctor is demonized and the patient idealized. In such a reversal there is something fundamentally lucrative to a cinema film (but not to a tv movie).

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