El Principe aka The Prince, the directing debut of filmmaker Sebastián Muñoz is one of most homoerotic prison movies we have seen for some time, and it bears the influences of other queer movies of that genre. The main difference of this tale set in Allende’s Chile in the 1970s is that young Jaime ( Juan Carlos Maldonado) ….. who is given the nickname The Prince …. is actually happy to be in jail.
He’s been imprisoned for murdering a man he befriended and flirted with in a bar who turned out that he prefered to sleep with a girl rather than him.
Jaime is a beautiful curly haired young man and when he is put in a cell with just one bunk bed set with 4 other men, he is immediately ‘adopted’ by Stud (Alfredo Castro) who discards his present lover so that Jamie can take his place.
Stud tells Jaime that to survive here in prison he must be macho. At this stage Jaime is anything but, and meekly follows him in to the group showers and then allows Stud to penetrate without question.
The jail is a grim sordid place and the warders seem to turn a blind eye to all the homosexuality going on ………. Stud is far from the only one who has his own bunk buddy. But occasionally they need to show the prisoners that they are the ones in power and the movie’s most brutal scene stage is a very graphic rape of Stud. It’s a warning to everyone that even alpha males like Stud can be brought to heal.
The cell next door also has its own gang leader in Che Pibe (Gaston Pauls) who has Dany his own very young ‘boyfriend. Che Pibe struts around the jail as the procurer and supplier of anything and everything, and now the newly confident Jaime has his eyes of two things that Che Pibe possess. A new red leather jacket and Dany. In one very explicit shower scene it looks like he is going to get at least one of them.
In between all these scenes there are flashbacks of Jaime’s youth and we see that not only was he aware of his sexuality from a very early age, he disliked his life so much , that he actually prefers being behind bars. Especially because this is where he matures and becomes the man he feels he was always destined to be.
Muñoz wrote the script with Luis Barrales adapting a novel by Mario Cruz, and it is an immensely powerful and engrossing coming-of-age, the like of which we’ve never seen before. Whilst it hardly glorified homosexuality, it certainly normalized these relationships which made a rather grim prison life easier to bear.
In only his 2nd movie role, Maldonado is perfectly cast as Jaime and gives a magnetic performance which is pitch perfect, The other kudos should probably go to the production design which Muñoz usually does and made the grim looking jail so authentic. This, and his direction, helped the film win the prestigious Queer Lion at the Venice Film Festival.