REVIEW: A Prophet (Un Prophète)

A Prophet (Un Prophète) (18)

Dir. Jaques Audiard

Cast. Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup, Adel Bencherif, Hichem Yacoubi

4.5/5

Plot

19-year-old Malik El Djebena (Rahim) is sent to a tough French prison where, in order to survive, he must quickly learn to deal with the system’s violent politics.

REVIEW

A Prophet premiered at Cannes 2009, won the Grand Prix, and caused a stir the world over.  It is the fifth feature from director Jacques Audiard, and it is clear that the Frenchman remains on kind of fine form he displayed with his 2005 semi-gangster flick, The Beat That My Heart Skipped.

Tahar Rahim plays dumb, petty criminal, Malik, who enters France’s brutal prison, Brécourt, with nothing but a six-year sentence ahead of him.

Malik, unable to read or write, sinks straight to bottom of the pile, alone and neglected by the prison’s gang contingents; the Corsican’s because he is an Arab, and the Arabs because he is housed amongst the Corsicans.

As he struggles to hold on to his shoes, avoid beatings, and establish any semblance of respect, aging Corsican top-dog, César Luciani (Neils Arestrup) lifts his wing and seals Malik’s fate. But this is no buddy-flick; Luciani has charged him with the contract killing of fellow inmate, Rayeb (Hichem Yacoubi).

It is this act of violence, filmed with brutality and innocence at the same time, which ultimately unlocks the story and forces it into motion.

In these circumstances, it is easy to become over-indulgent, but like Audiard’s previous features A Prophet is crafted very much in the low-keys, opting for realism over sensationalism.  There are no excessive acts of violence, just the constant tension provided by the threat of it.

The performances in the film are all superb, played with the right level of humour and menace. But it is the young Tahar Rahim who, in only his second role, carries the film with maturity and aplomb, especially mastering the eventual transition from simple and childlike newbie to confident and intelligent leader.

We entrust in every nuance of Rahim’s portrayal and follow Malik as he learns to read, write and deconstruct the metaphysics of the institution in which he finds himself.  He operates in the shadow of the ghost of his victim, Rayeb, who occupies Malik’s cell, espousing haunting wisdom and challenging his ideas.

However, as much as critics have lauded A Prophet, it is not without a couple of flaws; for example, the namesake of the title is never really fully explored. During a driving scene midway through the film, Malik does foresee a collision with deer moments before it happens, but the point is never made clear nor is it revisited.  The surreal and fantastical aspects of the film, such as the inclusion of Rayeb’s ghost, do add a depth to proceedings, but are never pushed far enough.

Still, even with such a largely unanswered question, A Prophet is a brutal andhonest film, pure in its intentions and noble in its cause.

Verdict

If any more proof was needed the French can still deliver intelligent and trenchant cinema, this is it.

Trailer

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About craig shaw
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