‘A Prince’ Review: Let New Passions Bloom

‘A Prince’ Review: Let New Passions Bloom

It’s not immediately apparent how courtly intrigue figures in “A Prince,” Pierre Creton’s spellbinding French pastoral drama, though sex, death and domination hang palpably in the film’s crisp, Normandy air.

Creton, a veteran director working at the margins of France’s film industry, looks to the divine powers and chivalric codes that fuel swords-and-shields epics like “Game of Thrones,” but whittles these elements down to a mysterious essence. A subtly medieval score — distinguished by the thrum of a lute and composed by Jozef van Wissem — draws out a surreal dimension. Eventually, the film shifts into explicitly sexual and mythological terrain with a B.D.S.M. edge, and the score keeps pace, taking on a folk metal vibe.

The story is slippery by design, loosely tracking the gay coming-of-age of an apprentice gardener, Pierre-Joseph, played for the most part by Antoine Pirotte. Creton, who also works as a gardener in real life, plays the older version of Pierre-Joseph, so “A Prince” also reads as an autofictional memory piece.

Throughout the film, a series of wordless and seductively austere tableaux, Pierre- Joseph forms bonds with various individuals in his rural community. Multiple narrators, including Françoise Lebrun (“The Mother and the Whore”), speak in retrospect, as if looking back from the afterlife at the characters onscreen. These connections are tangled: for instance, Lebrun voices Françoise Brown (played by Manon Schaap), the head of a horticulture school. Yet Lebrun also plays the onscreen version of Pierre-Joseph’s mother.

The effect may seem frustrating at first, but it ultimately feeds into the kind of alternative, communal lifestyle that the film showcases so beautifully.

Pierre-Joseph eventually comes to form a throuple with Alberto (Vincent Barré) and Adrien (Pierre Barray), his mentors. The naked bodies of these much older gentleman appear suggestively weathered next to their younger lover’s sprightly form. Yet there is no mention of taboo. That passion could bloom in such spontaneous and unexpected forms is part of this enigmatic film’s potency.

A Prince
Not rated. In French, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 22 minutes. In theaters.

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