Review: Gay Chilean Prison Drama ‘The Prince’ (‘El Príncipe’)

Artsploitation Films release The Prince (El Príncipe) – a period film steeped in classic queer influences – on July 7th. This Chilean prison drama from renowned art director Sebastián Muñoz is based on an out of print Chilean novel by author Mario Cruz dating back to the early seventies. Muñoz and co-writer Luis Barrales adapt the novel for the screen, managing to capture a vivid sense of  Chile amidst the Presidency of Salvador Allende.

This period in Chile’s history is explored through the eyes of Jaime (Juan Carlos Maldonado), a young freshly incarcerated prisoner, serving time for brutally murdering his best friend and the object of his obsession, El Gitano. Battling his repressed homoerotic desires Jaime arrives in a San Bernando prison where he is dubbed The Prince by revered and feared kingpin figure El Potro (Alfredo Castro – star of the The Club and excellent White On White), who fulfils Jaime’s narcissistic desires for recognition and affection, whilst introducing him to homosexual life behind bars. Threatened by power dynamics between prisoners and the brutality of prison guards.

Evocative of Jean Genet’s Miracle of the Rose and Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Querelle, The Prince plays with classic queer prisoner behind bars motifs, blending explicit sexuality with genuine themes of confused affection and longing. Jaime’s story is one of two halves – one being his narcissistic need to be desired (we see this built through flashbacks with Jaime and an older woman showering him in affection), something that El Potro seems to provide. Yet as the narrative progresses, we witness Jaime struggle with a genuine need to be loved – something which even behind bars he hunts for.

Jaime’s imprisonment is one which opens the floodgates of his previously repressed sexual desires. There is an irony in the fact that when behind bars Jaime experiences a sense of sexual freedom of which he felt the need to repress in conservative Chilean society. Aesthetically, The Prince is a film steeped in brutality and its visuals are presented in extremes – from the brutality faced by the prisoners at the hands of sadistic guards (a harrowing scene with El Potro and the guards lingers), to the bold, visceral sexual and erotic imagery that director Sebastián Muñoz adopts. This is adds an impressive tonal and visual style to The Prince capturing the extremities of prison life where life is explicit in regards to both violence and sexuality.

The Prince’s production design from Claudia Gallardo is also truly impeccable, transporting us to the dark, damp San Bernando prison of the seventies. This decaying locale creates a vivid and atmospheric canvas for Jaime’s claustrophobic tale of survival to unfold upon. Praise should be bestowed upon the performances of Juan Carlos Maldonado and Alfredo Castro. Maldonado’s Jaime is almost sociopathic in his brooding demeanour, with the actor managing to convey Jaime’s domineering desires for recognition and affection with limited use of dialogue. Castro’s El Potro is a much more vocal figure, with the actor conveying the openness and liberation of the kingpin’s prison hierarchy which helps Jaime awaken his repressed sexual desires.

Striking in its damp claustrophobic aesthetic and powerful erotic imagery, The Prince is an impressive look at sexual awakening and humankind’s need for connection. Paying homage to Genet and Fassbinder, Sebastián Muñoz’s film is also engrossing in its depiction of early 1970s Chilean prison life.

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