It is always an interesting experience to go into a film completely blind, and just let it wash over you when you have no idea what to expect. But seldom have I ever experienced that so thoroughly as with the French indie short feature Le Prince des Cieux (which translates to Prince of Heaven). When I discovered the newly-released DVD of the 48-minute film I was immediately drawn in by the moody and mysterious cover art... yet since all the text on the box is in French, I was kept totally in the dark about what to expect. As it turns out, though, that may have been the perfect way to take in Le Prince des Cieux: a film that is as spellbinding as it is mysterious and challenging to decipher. The film is an entirely dialogue-free, music-driven piece which conjures up a strong sense of mood and atmosphere, but presents a puzzle of symbolic imagery rather than any sort of concrete narrative. In its emphasis on music and strong, hypnotic visuals, it is a bit reminiscent of abstract long-form music films like Koyaanisqatsi or Baraka (albeit on a much smaller-budgeted indie scale), but with one key difference. Rather than looking outwardly at the world like those films do, it looks inward, to the soul of its troubled central character, and sees the world through his eyes.
Le Prince des Cieux follows a young man living in a run-down part of a city that is filled with entropy, pollution, and decay. He is an artist, who specializes in pieces based around disturbing found photographs showing death and violence; a reflection of his own existential darkness and self-destructive behavior. As we follow him for the better part of an hour as he interacts with both the world and his own psyche, we get a portrait of the angst, disillusionment, and hopelessness of the modern human condition, and particularly that of the modern city-dweller. Writer/director David Thouroude creates this through a series of haunting, emotionally-evocative images, many of which conjure up religious, occult, and political iconography in a decidedly sinister way, hinting at the forces principally at work in our character's tortured psyche. Despite the lack of dialogue, Thouroude uses this imagery to create a pretty clear sense of the nature of his protagonist's disillusionment, and does quite an effective job of getting us inside his state of being. Of course it is all very abstract, and operates mostly on an emotional level, requiring the viewer to analyze what they have just seen and come to their own conclusions about the meaning, but that is exactly what makes it such an interesting puzzle of a film.
Despite having clearly been filmed on a low budget, it is very well-shot, and filled with compelling and sometimes pretty unnerving images. The music is also quite good, and pairs with the images excellently. The soundtrack by Billy Dranty is - like the film itself - fairly abstract, with a lot of minimalist, droning sounds, and electronic and industrial beats. As with the films like Koyaanisqatsi that appear to have inspired it, Le Prince des Cieux depends largely on the power of the soundtrack and images complimenting and amplifying each other for maximum emotional effectiveness. It is a difficult type of film to do well, but Thouroude pulls it off. There are some sections that don't work as well as others – visual motifs or repetitions that go on too long, or parts where the low budget hinders the level of visuals that Thouroude is trying to achieve – but for the most part the film succeeds quite well.
Le Prince des Cieux isn't the sort of film that will be for everyone: both its dialogue-free nature and its challenging level of abstractness may be offputting to some. But if music-driven, open-to-interpretation mood-pieces are your cup of tea, you'll really enjoy this short feature. It casts a hypnotic spell with its mix of haunting images and moody music, and its themes and visual motifs are strong enough to give the viewer a lot to think about, even if the film leaves the actual meaning of it all decidedly open-ended. Check it out if you get the chance.
- Christopher S. Jordan
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