“[Director Sam] de Jong firmly establishes himself as a director to watch, and it’s not hard to imagine future projects in which he further explores bold stylistic drama, hopefully enhancing the complexity of his screenplays as well.”
by Ken Bakely
The first scene of Sam de Jong’s Prince sees Ayoub (Ayoub Elasri), a Moroccan-Dutch teenager living in Amsterdam, engaged in a bit of mischief with his friends Franky (Jorik Scholten), Achraf (Achraf Meziani), and Oussama (Oussama Addi). They have put a small explosive in a mailbox, and kick back to watch said mailbox blow apart. De Jong uses this introduction to demonstrate his skills as a filmmaker – short, direct snippets of dialogue that get straight to the point, coupled with an idiosyncratic aesthetic that recalls the works of Wes Anderson: bright colors and perfectly centered shots. But de Jong, making his feature debut after a stint in short films and commercials, maps out his own territory. Night scenes replace sun-baked pastels with everything from neon yellows to chlorine blues. Now it’s less Anderson, more Nicolas Winding Refn (specifically Drive). De Jong isn’t afraid of unleashing a flurry of pop art on his screen, creating a visual allusion to the endless storm taking place in his main character’s mind as he navigates rocky relationships with his mother (Elsie de Brauw), half-sister (Olivia Lonsdale), and friends, as he finds himself adrift in a sea of ambition, all in a quest to get a girl (Singrid ten Napel).
De Jong is a man with a message, utterly deconstructing the idea of unfiltered aggression as the materialist’s concept of masculinity. As Ayoub tries harder and harder to “become a man”, he loses himself and falls into a vortex of self-destruction. This is a very simple, derivative message, and unfortunately de Jong handles it arbitrarily, running the gamut in a conventional way, whipping a resolution into existence through a third-act personal tragedy and ending things in an overly neat way, where every loose end is politely tied at once. Considering the depths to which its main character almost fell not thirty minutes earlier, this seems like a cheat. But what de Jong lacks in story nuance, he makes up for in visual intensity and self-assurance. When Ayoub obtains a pair of cyan Zanottis, the camera comically ogles them as he walks down a pale cobblestone street. It zooms in on the shoes, idolizing them to the point that the scene becomes ironic, alluding to an inevitable downfall of the main character. Prince clocks in at a slim 79 minutes, ensuring that neither de Jong’s somewhat puerile storytelling nor his sleek-yet-ephemeral scenic approach become exhausting. As far as first features go, the movie is unusually confident, but leaves much to be desired. However, de Jong firmly establishes himself as a director to watch, and it’s not hard to imagine future projects in which he further explores bold stylistic drama, hopefully enhancing the complexity of his screenplays as well.