Princess Marie, 2004

Benoît Jacquot’s thematic penchant for performance, historicity, and probing the creative mind converges impeccably in the epic biopic Princess Marie on the remarkable life of Princess Marie Bonaparte – the libertine, progressive thinking, seemingly anachronistic great grand-niece of Napoleon and Princess of Greece and Denmark – and her close association with Sigmund Freud and his daughter Anna in the groundbreaking field of psychoanalysis during the historically transformative (and increasingly turbulent) period between the two world wars. A graphic illustration of the female sexual anatomy during the opening scene sets the film’s wryly offbeat and taboo-breaking tone, as the forthright Marie (Catherine Deneuve), in consultation with a specialist over a scheduled surgical procedure to cure her frigidity, makes a candid request for the surgeon to explain the details of the operation, not through discreet euphemisms and allusions, but using the actual scientific terms and processes entailed in the gynecological procedure. However, when medical surgery fails to cure her frigidity, Marie soon decides to leave her family and embark on an indeterminate trip to Vienna at the office of renowned psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (Heinz Bennent) in an attempt to secure, at any cost, his services for an aggressive schedule of two analysis sessions per day in the belief that the answer to her malady resides in the subconscious. Flattered and affronted in equal measures by the boldness of her presumptuous proposition, Freud is nevertheless intrigued by the idea of collaborating – at such a late stage in his professional career – on a research project to explore the nature of female desire. Chronicling the evolution of their relationship from patient, to advocate, to colleague, and even subsequently, to protector and benefactor, as Marie uses her personal fortune and international, aristocratic cachet to secure exit visas for the entire Freud household (secured, in part, by supportive testimony from Freud admirer, Benito Mussollini) after the ailing Sigmund – an atheist of Jewish ancestry – becomes increasingly subjected to harassment and intimidation by the Nazis following the German occupation of Austria, the film is an elegantly rendered fusion of scientific theory and practical application, personal expression and social custom, intimate biography and geopolitical history. However, far from a staid history lesson on the cultural zeitgeist of wartime Europe, Princess Marie is also an effervescent, tongue-in-cheek evocation of the very principles of psychoanalysis itself. Casting Deneuve’s real-life son Christian Vadim in the role of young Marie’s (played by Marie Christine Friedrich) rogue seducer Léoni, and Heinz Bennet’s real-life daughter Anne in the role of Freud’s daughter, Anna (whom Freud had psychoanalyzed during his research despite the murky ethical implications entailed in such an act), Jacquot playfully (and infectiously) upends the textbook cases of incestuous and taboo relationships that have become the reductive, hackneyed root cause of all psychoanalytical trauma in the diagnosis of twentieth century neurosis.

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