Jaime (Juan Carlos Maldonado) finds himself in prison during Salvador Allende’s Chile. He learns the ropes from one of his older cell mates, Stud (Alfredo Castro). His presence rocks the boat in that cell, as Stud prefers the fresh fish over his current bunk mate (Sebastian Ayala). Stud eventually sexually assaults Jaime, and what ensues for the next 90 minutes of this film is a Fassbinder-esque display the male body. It also and of ambiguous love and more ambiguous morality between all the prison’s inmates. Somehow their relationship has more nuance over time. Co-writer and director Sebastian Munoz’ The Prince contrasts that relationship to the ones Jaime has had in the past.
Prison life and ‘free’ life, and the loves and relationships in both spheres, are not the only contrasts that this film shows. Right after Jaime’s sexual assault, two other inmates using his cell’s top bunk have sex that sounds more consensual than the one he just had. Again, the murky relationship between Jaime and the Stud is not the only one we see.That means that we have different manifestations of gay love, and The Prince does not put those relationships as the end goal. Jaime and the Stud do not have to end up like their cuddly bunk mates, they are simply different from them.
Even the flashbacks show that life before prison is better or worse. Some of these flashbacks portray the, gasp, women that Jaime had dalliances with. He does not treat them as well as he treats his men. And I do not mind its display of brutality, a quality that The Prince depicts better than some films do. It knows how to tell that part of the story and its realist elements through production design. And most films would overdo a lot of things to show the difference between prison and pre-prison. But its marks those visuals in subtler ways. There’s color in both parts of Jaime’s life.
It is great that such a young male character has a backstory that is both fully fleshed out and impressionistic. But sometimes it feels like it does not know where it wants to go. Jaime wants to be a musician. So, does he become a Rockstar or does prison life stifle that dream, making the film only about him and the Stud? And prison films like this cannot, well, escape the insular demands of its sub genre. It closes itself off to the outside society that is as interesting as the one inside. But what it depicts is gripping enough, making its audience curious enough to see Jaime’s growth.