Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Un prophète (2009)

Without a doubt, Jacques Audiard's Un prophète is bound to become a classic of crime drama. Obviously, this French film doesn't reinvent the genre of films that take place in prisons. However, the film astonishes because it manages to put substance over useless grittiness.

The story introduces us to Malik (Tahar Rahim), an illiterate nineteen-year-old boy of Arabic heritage who was sentenced to six years. On the day he becomes considered as an adult by French laws, Malik is transferred to a prison for adults. Once inside, Malik has the feeling that he doesn't fit in. Indeed, despite his heritage, Malik is not accepted by the prisoners of Arabic heritage, because he's not much of a Muslim.

Then enters César Luciani (Niels Arestrup), the leader of a group of convicts who are members of the Corsican mafia. Obviously, César takes Malik under his wing and guarantees him protection. In exchange for that, César expects Malik to do some dirty work for him. This is why he asks Malik to kill a prisoner of Arabic heritage, Reyeb (Hichem Yacoubi), who is to testify in court against César and his gang. While he looks like César's puppy, Malik, at the same time, toughens himself and builds his own network of contacts in and out of the prison in order to survive.

Without a doubt, French director Jacques Audiard gave us this film - which is a little bit predictable - because he wanted to denounce the appalling conditions in French prisons. As a film with a clearly universal resonance, Un prophète brings nothing new in the ongoing debate about how prisons are dumps. Indeed, we get to see a character - i.e. Malik - who gradually loses his innocence as time goes by. This means that while he has only committed petty crimes, Malik will become a dangerous mind. All in all, expect to hear the not-so-subtle message that prisons are the best universities specializing in crimes.

Nonetheless, despite borrowing the path taken by countless other films, Un prophète is a tour de force. The reason for that is because Tahar Rahim's incredible performance is a good companion to Un prophète's story. By showing Rayeb, Malik's first victim, reappearing as a ghost, Audiard skilfully canvassed the psychological evolution of Malik. While he doesn't feel at ease the first time Rayeb's ghost appears, Malik will gradually become accustomed to his presence. In a nutshell, this narrative technique reveals quite a lot about Malik.

Finally, Un prophète doesn't really revolutionize the genre of prison dramas. However, Jacques Audiard handles its subject matter with care without over-glamourizing life in prison.

Rating: 4.5/5

Origin:France (2009)
Length:155 minutes
Screenplay:Thomas Bidegain, Jacques Audiard and Abdel Raouf Dafri
Director:Jacques Audiard
Starring:Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup and Adel Bencherif

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