When I watched Lav Diaz’s Death in the Land of Encantos again, I had a nice encounter with a prince, the prince of the black dwarfs to be exact. The main character’s mother, who ends up in a mental institution, had been observed by the dwarfs. This is, at least, how the story goes. The dwarfs snatched her soul and from that moment on she was prisoner of the prince. I saw the film a couple of times, but only now I find the prince very interesting.

Reason for this is the use of another prince, namely in Béla Tarr’s Werckmeister Harmonies. It struck me that both directors use “the prince”, without any explanation, in order to refer to the dark side. It is a confusing game. I’m sure that most of us think of handsome men, when the word “prince” pops up. Both Tarr and Diaz, however, refer to the Prince of Darkness. The Devil. Lucifer. However you want to name him. In Encantos, the prince snatches souls. In Werckmeister, he incites violence. 

carmen and pongapong flower

Neither of them is visible. They are imaginary figures. The presence of the prince in Encantos is more or less announced via the use of the Pongapong Flower, which grows in the main character’s back yard. The mother takes it as a sign for the return of the prince. The flower is interestingly called the Corpse Flower; a poignant choice for the indication of a character’s descent into madness and finally into death. The flower is only a mere attempt to render the invisible visible. In fact, the prince remains unseen and is only talked about.

It is similar to the prince in Werckmeister. His (imaginary?) presence in the town square, accompanied by the whale, incites violence and anger amongst the townspeople. He’s spoken of, and advertised as an attraction of the circus. But he, too, remains a ghost. You may want to assign the name “prince” to the figure the people discover in the hospital’s shower room, if you desire to make him visible.

However, the use of the princes in those two films brings up an interesting thought: slow films have a dark side. Think about Apichatpong Weerasethakul and his use of ghosts (Mekong Hotel comes to mind). It is the acknowledgement of higher spirits. But it is also a return to classical stories. The devil used to be present all the time. In popular film, the baddy isn’t the devil. He’s simply a human baddy. Popular films are “earthly” if you want. Slow films, though not all of them, are kind of earthly-heavenly-spiritual. And they bring the devil back into play, suggesting that not everything can be explained rationally.

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