SSIFF interview: Sebastián Muñoz (El Principe)

Cédric Succivalli sat down for an interview with Sebastián Muñoz, director of El Principe, the 2019 Queer Lion recipient, presented in the Horizontes Latinos sidebar section at the 67th San Sebastian Film Festival. Their topics ranged from Salvador Allende’s discourse and its relevance for Chile’s younger generations to the use of body doubles in graphic sex scenes. You can also find an interview with Alfredo Castro, the iconic Chilean actor, here.

CS: I have just interviewed your incredible actor, Alfredo Castro, and we were talking about how important the Queer Lion was at the moment for a film talking about homosexuality in Chile. First of all, congratulations on this award, and how do you feel about that?

SM: It is a political award. It’s a prize that doesn’t speak only about homosexuality, the movie talks about the freedom and the love between human beings.

CS: Something that is very important for me is the way you end your film with the iconic discourse of Salvador Allende. What political resonance does it have nowadays for younger generations?

SM: It was a personal choice for me to use that discourse, which was not in the original novel. I chose that the movie started at the end of 1969 and it ended just on the day Allende took power. Because that discourse is a discourse of hope. And it is a speech that speaks about the harsh, difficult times that are going to come. So I wanted The Prince, when he is alone finishing work on the plush cat, putting in the eyes, to be listening to that discourse on the radio so the world could understand what that speech was about. Allende was a very good orator and I think that speech is really moving and touching nowadays.

CS: You are one of the most famous and talented art directors in your country with an incredible career in that field already, and now you’re here with your debut feature film as a director. How did you choose the jail in the film? Was this prison in San Bernardo or not?

SM: No, but it is located very near San Bernardo.

CS: This prison is closed now, isn’t it?

SM: Yes, it was closed right after the earthquake.

CS: How many weeks did you spend altogether in that jail shooting?

SM: Three weeks.

CS: I have a question regarding the casting process for this film. All the young actors are incredible. Alfredo Castro was telling me that some of them were in his School, but others not.

SM: I chose every single one of them myself. The most important thing was how they looked at me, you know, that they were capable of showing emotions, real emotions, through their gaze. That was the most important thing.

CS: There are a lot of graphic gay sex scenes in the film and in that respect it reminded me of Jean Genet’s universe or Pasolini’s. Did you face any issues or resistance shooting them with some of the actors? And was it a problem for them when they first read the script?

SM: It was for Juan Carlos Maldonado, The Prince. He had a few issues. I wanted to cast a heterosexual man to play that part. I chose him but he had a bit of conflict with his family and how he felt about doing these sex scenes. I never had to convince him. He had some issues but he decided to do them. We had a body double for the close-ups on the penis. But there were funny moments because the body doubles were sex workers, so for the close-ups it was kind of weird. We had to take great care with all these sex scenes and prepare the set specially for that. We had a special tent just for the body doubles, because they had to be sexually active to make the scenes work! We had to ensure they would be aroused for these very graphic scenes. It was a new thing for all of us, that we were doing erotic cinema, you know, we were not used to that. My vision as a director was to make all these sex scenes very real and to show erections and semen, everything. But it turned out that some of the producers tended to cut some of these scenes. I really wanted to show everything without compromise. But I will soon release my director’s cut!

CS: What was the symbolism of the red leather jacket? It’s a very powerful visual element in the film.

SM: Men usually don’t wear colors in Chile until today, Chile is all black, grey, blue, navy blue. In Chile when a man wears colors, you say that he is a gay man, people tend to make that association. What it means when he puts on the red leather jacket is that he is gay now and he has that power and he wants to show it.

CS: Pardon my ignorance when it comes to Latin American pop music but this “Lamento” song, who is it by? The one used in the closing credits. Because it is a very important song lyrics-wise.

SM: Ah Ansiedad, Anxiety in English! The composer of that song is Ángela Acuña. She did the whole instrumental score for the film.

CS: Last question, you were competing at Settimana della Critica in Venice, now you are in Horizontes Latinos here in San Sebastian, with a very strong line-up of films I may add.

SM: It’s a very strong section indeed this year with some incredible films! I also worked with Jayro Bustamante on La Llorona. I was the art director on that one.