In my review of Paul Kampf’s Imprisoned, I briefly wrote about the oversaturation of films set in penitentiaries. The claustrophobia of a cell, the mundanity of everyday routines, the Stockholm syndrome spurred by prolonged captivity, the depravity of those presiding over the facility, as well as those inhabiting it have all been scrutinized in great detail on the silver screen.
Extra kudos go out to art-director-turned-filmmaker Sebastián Muñoz for avoiding most (if not all) of the clichés of your average prison flick. His searing drama The Prince, based on an obscure queer novel from the 1970s, is reminiscent of Julian Schnabel’s Before Nightfall or Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet in the way it examines prejudice, power and oppression through its specific prism. It’s a raw experience, both uncompromisingly vicious and spectacularly tender, agonizingly suffocating and ultimately freeing. Watching The Prince once may prove to be enough, yet watch it once you must.
“They share the cell with three other men, one of whom grows understandably resentful of Jaime and Potro’s relationship.”
When the good-looking, highly self-aware, and somewhat dim-witted Jaime (Juan Carlos Maldonado) is incarcerated for slicing someone’s throat, he’s immediately taken under the wing of Potro, aka Stud (Alfredo Castro). They share the cell with three other men, one of whom grows understandably resentful of Jaime and Potro’s relationship. “You’re lucky,” Potro tells Jaime, after making the young man strip and urging him to smoke. “In here, we’re all clean. We have food to eat. No one will step on you.”
Unlike most of the other inmates, Jaime prefers to be in prison, discovering salvation in his incarceration. Therein lies the bitter irony, snaking through the narrative: in a country where one’s identity/sexuality is so vehemently repressed, one may truly find themselves when imprisoned amongst kindred spirits (even if some of them committed unspeakable crimes). And so Jamie blossoms, acquiring the moniker The Prince, and forming a deep bond with Potro. Tempers flare, leading to backstabbing, murder, guitar lessons, and heated, brutal sex. In the meantime, Jaime’s background is revealed, leading up to the murder he committed. Muñoz leaves things on an ambiguous note that I will not ruin.
"…moments of respite are rare amidst the doom and gloom."