Review: The Prince
by Carlota Moseguí
- VENICE 2019: Chile’s Sebastián Muñoz makes his debut with an erotic prison drama about the homosexual awakening of an inmate surrounded by extreme violence
The 76th edition of the Venice Film Festival has hosted the world premiere of the feature debut by Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Muñoz Costa del Río. The Prince [+see also:
film profile] is one of the seven features that are locking horns in the International Film Critics’ Week at the Mostra, and it will soon set sail for Spain to duke it out for the Horizontes Latinos Award at the 67th San Sebastián Film Festival.
The directorial debut by this renowned art director, who has worked on more than ten Chilean productions, is an adaptation of Mario Cruz’s prison-set novel of the same name. Both the storyline of the book and the action of the film unfurl in the Chilean city of San Bernardo during the start of the 1970s – more specifically, just before the presidential elections that would bring Salvador Allende to power.
The movie begins with an extreme close-up shot of the slit throat of a twentysomething man, lying in a pool of freshly spilled blood. Another young man, who we soon come to realise is the main character of The Prince, seems devastated as he observes the crime of passion he has just committed in a public place, in front of his friends and various strangers. Next, the plot shifts to the prison after he’s been sentenced off-camera. From that moment on, the movie takes place entirely in that jail, apart from a few flashbacks to the moment of the murder, as well as the erstwhile relationship between the victim and the executioner, which is portrayed through memories recalled by the protagonist.
The Prince deals with the homosexual awakening of a young man called Jaime (played by Juan Carlos Maldonado). It’s a realisation that, sadly, he could not come to while he was a free man, given that any sign of desire between two men would have been suppressed by the conservative society of the time. In this drama, which features a high number of erotic scenes, Jaime goes into his cell believing that his homosexuality is something of a huge stigma. Nevertheless, while there, he immerses himself in an introspective exercise that allows him to start to love himself – his nickname “The Prince” is bestowed upon him because of his handsomeness and his new aptitude for leadership – and affords him the luxury of not having to repress his sexual attraction towards the other prisoners, especially towards his cellmate El Potro (lit. “The Colt”, played by the seasoned and ever-excellent Alfredo Castro), with whom he will strike up a full-on relationship.
Although the protagonist’s incarceration may be conducive to the blossoming of his homosexuality, the director never ceases to remind the viewer of the environment of extreme violence in which the twentysomething finds himself. And so, The Prince is a story of survival revolving around a young man condemned to remain in this hellhole of a prison. The film reminds us of and pays tribute to the courage of Chilean author Mario Cruz, who described the gay antihero in his novel as a victim of the social conservatism of those times, as he murdered the person towards whom he felt a “forbidden” sexual attraction.
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