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Home » Film, Non-fiction, Reviews

FILM – The Prophet

Submitted by admin on January 20, 2010 – 10:10 amNo Comment

by Jemimah Steinfeld


One of the most memorable lines in classic prison drama The Shawshank Redemption is when Tim Robbins’ character, Andy Dufrasne avers: “The funny thing is – on the outside, I was an honest man, straight as an arrow. I had to come to prison to be a crook.” This line resonates throughout A Prophet, the highly anticipated movie from French filmmaker Jacques Audiard, about Malik, a young French-Arab sentenced to six years in prison. Little is made of what crime led to Malik’s incarceration; a lot is made of the crimes Malik goes on to commit. Played by newcomer Tahar Rahim, we have no associations with the character both onscreen and off. He enters prison quiet and discreet, but upon catching the eye of Cesar Luciani (Niels Arastrup), the manipulative, flagitious top-dog of the Corsican mafia, he is forcibly taken under his wing and blackmailed into killing another prisoner and from here, we watch as Malik ascends the criminal hierarchy.

prophet2This is not to say all is black and white. The triumph of A Prophet is in its ability to portray Malik committing the most heinous crimes and yet leave you with a sense of emotional empathy. Unlike other crime movies of this ilk, there are no obvious heroes and villains and Malik’s journey to the top is no more glamorous and satisfactory than the end of season sale at Primark. His agony over his first murder is palpable and gut-wrenching. He is then haunted by the victim’s ghost throughout, who, as fate would have it, becomes his salvation, his prophet.

And this is where the film’s other victory lies: while it benefits from some Hollywood embellishments seen in the American-style toughness of some of the mafia, its documentary-like feel effectively avoids it becoming just another crime flick. Indeed, it adds to its strong sense of location. The whole films pulses with the grind of prison life, which is grainy, monotonous, the only excitement derived from occasional bursts of violence and escape from the jail walls.

The result is thoughtful, immersive cinema and also timely; as France plans to ban the wearing of the Burka in public, Malik’s battle with his own identity as a French-Arab couldn’t be any more apposite. Superbly acted by baby-faced Rahim, A Prophet more than justifies its two and a half hours of length.

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