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With a large number of awards including 9 Cesers, awards from the Cannes and London Film Festivals, a BAFTA and an Oscar nod for Best Foreign Language Film, A Prophet is being released on DVD and Blu-ray this week.
Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim) is a 19-year-old French-Algerian man sent to prison for six years. He tries to stay out of trouble, but he is forced to commit the murder of a Muslim prisoner after Cesar (Niels Arestrup) and the Unione Corse (Corsican Mafia) threaten his life. When the deed is done, Malik is seen as a traitor by Arab and Muslim prisoners and the Corsicans treat him as a lower class prisoner even though they protect him. Malik slowly rises up the ranks of Ceser‘s crew, helping them with their crime empire on the outside, yet Malik’s friend Ryad (Adel Bencherif) advises him to improve himself through education.
Under the expert direction of Jacques Audiard, A Prophet seamlessly mixes social realism and gritty violence with surreal dream sequences, making the film very much like the excellent HBO series Oz. Audiard does not hold back with the bloody brutality of a murder and the psychological impact it would have on someone. He gets the pacing right with the film going in a number of directions. There’s the harsh reality of prison life, how a crime empire would function behind bars, and racial and religious tensions, which are similar to American prisons where people are divided by racial and religious lines.
Audiard brings in political commentary about French society and the effects of prison life overall. There is the big theme of how Muslims and Arabs are treated with mistrust and as lower-class citizens by some sections of society. It is a major issue in modern France, but could also be applied to the UK, the Netherlands and the USA. Audiard also looks at the impossible balance of a prisoner trying to reform himself with the pull of organized crime and obvious darker side of prison life. He is able to mix all these themes together, allowing viewers to interpret the film as a prison film, crime film, an examination of the darker side of the human mind, a story of friendship or a film about racial and religious identity. The only downside to all this inclusion is the film runs too long and some scenes should have been cut.
Regardless, with an excellent group of actors, Audiard and his cast explore complex characters with complex issues. The director brings out the depth in the characters and does not dare to simplify; even the villains have moments where we get to examine their characters. The tone throughout the film is low-key, gritty and serious, allowing the situation and violence to be as realistic as possible. A Prophet is not a big crime epic like Scarface or The Godfather which some critics will have you believe. The film Hunger would be a more fairer comparison, matching it‘s style and sombre tone.
Directed by Jacques Audiard
Written by Thomas Bidegain and Jacques Audiard (screenplay), Abdel Raouf Dafri and Nicolas Peufaillit (original screenplay)
Starring: Tahar Rahim, Cesar Luciani, Adel Bencherif
Other Player Affinity Reviews
Simon thought: “Performances, art direction and cinematography are the stars of A Prophet, the critically acclaimed Best Foreign Language Film nominee from last year’s Oscars. A Prophet is a sprawling, often intense epic telling the unlikely and ultimately manipulative rise of a Muslim prisoner inside a notorious French prison. This prison drama has a lengthy running time but that aspect should never be a detriment upon itself. The bigger question is if the feature has enough compelling material to keep the narrative supported and A Prophet only mostly succeeds in that aspect; never boring but often demanding. The largest flaws are the spiritual elements, which one would expect judging this film on its title alone, but they remain extremely sparse, and when they do arise are awkward and a jarring removal from the films dramatic bones.” Rating: 7/10
Player Affinity Composite Rating: 8.0/10