Directed by Jacques Audiard
Released February 26, 2010
One of this year’s Oscar nominees for Best Foreign Film is a frank portrait of a young man who grows into adulthood while in prison. It’s unflinching in its depiction of the horrors and the violence of prison life, and in that commitment to telling its story without whitewashing or softening the blows its characters experience, it permits the audience to adapt along with the protagonist. “A Prophet” is a brutal and honest film that digs deep into the heart and soul of one 19-year-old whose conviction for a relatively minor crime immerses him in a far more violent and treacherous world where he must rely on only himself to survive.
“A Prophet” is particularly intriguing because of the identity of its protagonist. Malik El Djebana is a man with connections to different worlds. Malik is an Arab, but his first assignment in prison comes from Corsican capo Cesar Luciani, a do-or-die mission where Malik must murder a man in cold blood and then receive protection from the Corsicans or face death at the hands of the Corsicans because of his knowledge of their plot. Mailk can never fully be accepted by the Corsicans, however, because he is an Arab, so he must become their servant of sorts. Early on in the film, the intense nature of Malik’s situation is already present, and it’s fascinating to see the wheels spinning in this young man’s head. It’s impossible to believe that Malik can only be nineteen give the extreme encounters he experiences and the tough decisions he must face in prison.
“A Prophet” is a profile of one man who comes to prison not knowing anything about himself and ultimately amasses a vast network of contacts and friends through sheer dutifulness. What becomes of young Malik is extraordinary and impressive, and it’s amazing how subtle the transformation from lost, solitary loner to respected, connected veteran is. The movie doesn’t allow for any fantasy escapes from the harsh reality of Malik’s life. Two and a half hours is a long time to spend in prison, but the audience is right there with Malik. “A Prophet” doesn’t let the audience out of the experience for one second, creating a fascinating and irresistibly moving narrative.
A major part of what makes “A Prophet” so compelling is the lead performance by breakout star Tahar Rahim as Malik. It’s a remarkably subdued and simultaneously vivid portrayal, and permits the audience the opportunity to experience everything Malik goes through with the same seeming detachment and initial unresponsiveness as he exhibits. The ensemble players are also terrific, especially Niels Arestrup as Luciani, and their gritty performances contribute to the film’s effective realism. The film travels a dark and dreary path, but following it along to its surprising and satisfying conclusion is a truly rewarding effort.
Friday, February 26, 2010