The line between childhood and adulthood has always been an abrupt and downright confusing time. Sexual awakenings, political ideals, unrequited crushes and philosophical conundrums all fill the weird precipice between the two worlds. Fears of turning out like our parents and an uncertainty of where or how we’ll go anywhere in life are definitive of that experiential cusp. It is easy to turn to daydreams and aspirations of greatness the more pointless and disadvantaged everything feels. It is also easy for the frustration to boil over and turn dark.
Prince opens with typical boyhood shenanigans, like property destruction by way of fireworks and–much like our protagonist–the first thing our eyes are drawn to is the alluring girl next door. Our hero Ayoub (Ayoub Elasri) and his friends whittle away their days in their Amsterdam housing project mindlessly chewing sunflower seeds and wishfully listing off designer brands. The fanny pack touting small time gangsters, comprised of Ronnie(Peter Douma) and his cronies, fashion themselves as neighborhood kings who berate Ayoub. They coast the streets on their four wheelers while the boys lament their absence of wheels, one of the many reminders of their lack of status. Ayoub decidedly remarks, “Our time will come.” So begins our hero’s journey. Exasperated as his position as running boy for Ronnie and the other hoodlums who clearly hold him in disdain, Ayoub seeks out local, legendary psychopath Kalpa (Freddie Tratlehner)–despite everyone’s warning. The Devil appears not as a horned demon, but in a shiny Lamborghini Diablo, armed with a refreshing energy drink as he leads Ayoub down an increasingly darker path.
The material brands, the cars, the muscles, and the women bear the superficiality of Ayoub’s desires; socially, he wants the fear and admiration that comes with power. Personally, he wants to be a man. Ayoub has lived a duplicitous life both as the only man of the house (as evidenced by his overprotectiveness of his sister), and in the ominous shadow of following in his father’s fateful footsteps into hopeless addiction. Although he shows undivided compassion for his father, Ayoub is disgusted and angered at the mere thought of being anything like him. He is constantly confronted with the reminder when everyone seems to use his father as an excuse to criticize him. Distraught over his father, fed up with the constant harassment, and tired of his family fearing he will be just like his father, Ayoub’s anger simmers and simmers until he violently lashes out at his family–becoming the very thing he despises.
A turning point comes when an alleyway beatdown from Ronnie and the other bullies (which comes across a bit heavy handed) pushes Ayoub spiraling further down. While his father depends less and less on him as a son and more as a witness to his addiction it become too much to bear. The culmination results in Ayoub again turning to Kalpa for a release. In the midst of Ayoub’s complete loss of control of his life, Kalpa’s complete domination of every glamorous aspect of his is all the more alluring.The symbolism with Kalpa is over the top but, then again, so is the character. The inspired casting choice of nederhop rapper Freddie Tratlehner (better known as Vjèze Fur) works as he brings to life this psychotic pig slaughtering gangster with an gaudy affinity for gold crowns, energy drinks, and an extremely violent proclivity. Kalpa is not so subtly the Devil on Ayoub’s shoulder, leading him further down a dark path with each passing temptation. At first, it’s simply a stimulant in the form of a harmless energy drink, then it’s a pair of designer shoes, before Ayoub realizes he’s bumping lines alongside the Devil himself and holding a gun to someone’s trembling face. The fiery strobe of Kalpa’s lair and the trippy, seemingly endless tunnel they screech down in the Lamborghini accompanied with Kalpa’s eerily distorted voice are all appropriately surreal; it’s the moment where we are forced to consider who really is behind all of Ayoub’s hurt. Kalpa takes Ayoub to the edge but Ayoub proves his power through mercy for those figures of menace. Ayoub was tempted by the Devil to kill, but Ayoub ultimately turns the tables on every menacing force in his life by showing power through mercy. It was the pivotal point where Ayoub was forced to either face a similar fate as his father or find redemption in outlining a different life for himself.
The neon titles, the electronic soundtrack and the drab rainbow of lighting all noticeably mimic aspects of Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn’s sonic and visual influence. However it’s the beautifully stark and uniformed look to the exterior shots and the rapid editing that allow Prince to stand on its own two feet as writer-director Sam de Jong presents a vision that is uniquely his own. The story comes first in Prince but the script is injected with an adept charisma and self-awareness. One of Prince’s shining attributes is how genuine the rapport and humor feels between the boys. Never for a second does it seem a contrived quirkiness as newcomer and star Ayoub Elasri balances the downcast drama and the lighthearted charm with ease.
Prince is a sharp and charming debut that explores the elusiveness of power, breaking the expectations of becoming our parents and the recognition of self with a fearless grace and a witty flair. A nuanced script, a magnetic cast and deft direction come together to make Prince one of the most palpable coming of age stories in years with a distinct ability to dazzle
Prince is out now on demand on FilmBuff.