Thursday, May 30, 2024

Movie Review (Cannes Film Festival 2023): ‘Un Prince’ is Overnarrated and Leaden

Director: Pierre Creton

Writers: Vincent Barre, Pierre Creton, and Mathilde Girard

Stars: Mathieu Amalric, Pierre Barray, Vincent Barre

Synopsis: Pierre-Joseph is 16 years old when he joins a training center to become a gardener. There he meets Françoise Brown, the director, Alberto, his botany teacher, and Adrien, his employer, all of whom are decisive in his apprenticeship and the discovery of his sexuality. 40 years later, Kutta, Françoise Brown’s adopted child, whom he has always heard about, arrives. But Kutta, who has become the owner of the strange castle of Antiville, seems to be looking for something more than a simple gardener.

Pierre Creton makes some questionable directorial and narrative decisions, such as over-reliance on narration, slow pacing, and over-eroticized storylines, that test the audience’s patience in his latest work, A Prince (Un Prince) – a beautifully shot, albeit leaden and poetic-to-a-fault, picture about the vaporous passionate embraces of a botanist’s sexual awakening. 

The Cannes Film Festival sidebar Directors’ Fortnight (or Quinzaine des réalisateurs) contains some of the most interesting, stylistically engrossing pictures in the whole festival. Sure, most of the big names are competing to win the holy grail that is the Palme d’Or. But, there are awe-inspiring talents in said selection, Pierre Creton being one of them. While simultaneously working as a farmer in Caux for over the past twenty years (serving as a beekeeper, cow herder, and even milk quality controller), the French filmmaker has been inspired by his plentiful positions in the agricultural world to curate his fascination for cinema. As a result, Creton forges a relationship with the grounds he resides in to craft his work and expand on the bond between humanity and nature, relating them to desires, passions, and death. It is fascinating how Creaton has integrated agriculture with filmmaking; I haven’t seen someone do it in that fashion before. 

His latest post is that of a gardener, requiring patience, keen-eyed observations of the landscapes, and hope. And as Creton has done in the past, his latest passion is forged into his next feature-length film uniquely – titled A Prince (Un Prince). Most recently, we saw Paul Schrader using the trade of gardening in the third installment of his “Man in a Room” (First Reformed, The Card Counter) series, Master Gardener. However, Schrader uses the perseverance and silence of the character’s precision in his craft to cover the dark past that keeps haunting him. Creaton’s film isn’t near to being like Schrader’s. Instead, he wants to focus on how the beauty of nature paves the way for a young botanist’s sexual awakening. While all of this sounds quite intriguing and serves potential for a poetic endeavor of passion and desire, it ends up as a slog and a half. 

A handful of beautiful static shots introduce A Prince, as the echoes of the flowing wind sway the viewer into the director’s story of fiery embrace. One of the many narrators (this time, Françoise Lebrun) in the film begins to tell the story of a man named Kuttar. And by how he’s being described, Kuttar seems to be of great importance. The first detail we are given about Kuttar is that he was a delicate and beautiful child – citing that he never complained, albeit while admitting that she never listened to him. Next, the narrator switches topics and begins to talk about her personal life, confusing the audience, not knowing how to contextualize what she’s saying with what we are being shown onscreen. A few minutes later, another narrator arrives. Similar to what we heard before, he also deems Kuttar as a significant figure in his life. But, things begin to take a weird turn when the story we see onscreen doesn’t match the one we hear through the various narrators’ voices. 

The tale depicted via image centers around Pierre-Joseph (Antoine Pirotte), a sixteen-year-old who has entered a training center to become a gardener. In this center, he meets a variety of people that will become a pivotal part of not only his apprenticeship but also his sexual awakening – the center’s director Françoise Brown (Manon Schaap), his botany teacher Alberto (Vincent Barré), and his employer Adrien (Pierre Barray). All of this is seen through highly confusing scenarios with some sketchy progress in the main character’s exploration of passion and affinity. You never know what exactly is going on. And you don’t really care to understand it all because nothing in the film is interesting. This eighty-two-minute picture begins to frustrate the viewer due to its unnecessarily poetic nature and over-reliance on a voice guiding you at all times. Its well-choreographed static shots, combined with the soothing background noises of nature, begin to induce a sleep-inducing effect onto the viewer. 
You notice the care and thought put into A Prince by the director, alongside his team of screenwriters. It definitely feels far more personal than his previous features, Va, Toto! (2017) and A Beautiful Summer (2019). The cinematography by Antoine Pirotte, which is easily the best facet here, is also full of life, breathing some fresh air onto the green landscapes of this erotic fairy tale – even adding some surrealistic imagery to the movie’s latter half. Nevertheless, it never reaches a stable point where one has an interest outside of what beautiful landscape we will see next. It often feels more like an art installation than a full-length feature. From one beautiful moving image to the next, the viewer never knows its context. Pierre Creton has shown us before that he is a very skillful director by using the healing factors of nature to fuel the fire of his cinematic prowess. It just seems that whatever he was trying to concoct in A Prince wasn’t polished enough to see the light of day.

Grade: D

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