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A Prophet (2009)

Jacques Audiard's 'A Prophet' Nominated For Best Foreign Language Film

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A Prophet (2009)
Sony Pictures Classics
Until I saw Jacques Audiard's Oscar-nominated prison drama A Prophet, I had no idea inmates in France -- provided they behaved well enough -- were occasionally allowed to take leave days. Malik, a young Muslim, promises the parole board to use his twelve hours of freedom for job training to help gain a foothold into society upon his release.That's not altogether a lie -- but the career he's setting up is not at the local car mechanic but as a ruthless drug kingpin.

Malik, played with twitchy intensity by Tahar Rahim, is a fascinating character. The film begins with his incarceration, and at first he's a complete cipher. When César, a powerful Sicilian inmate (Niels Arestrup), forces him to murder another prisoner, Malik's own ambitions come into focus. He seduces a witness and slices his throat with a razor blade concealed in his cheek.

A Prophet is raw stuff, violent and unforgiving. Audiard's tale of a criminal education has invited comparisons with Brian De Palma's Scarface, but A Prophet has none of Scarface's operatic flourishes. Instead, we find ourselves enmeshed in prison yard beatings, backseat shootings, and the politics of hash trafficking to such an immersive degree that by the movie's end, you're not quite sure whether you've witnessed someone descend into hell or climb some kind of bloody throne.

A Prophet is playing in theaters now. It won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, Best Foreign Language Film at the BAFTA awards, and is nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 82nd Annual Academy Awards.

More About 'A Prophet'

'A Prophet' Credits

Starring: Niels Arestrup, Hichem Yacoubi, Gilles Cohen, Antoine Basler, Leila Bekhti
Directed by: Jacques Audiard
Produced by: Pascal Caucheteux, Martine Cassinelli
Running Time: 2 hrs. 29 min.
Release Date: February 26th, 2010 (limited)
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, sexual content, nudity, language and drug material. Distributors: Sony Pictures Classics
User Reviews

Reviews for this section have been closed.

 5 out of 5
A Prophet, Member Tarumatu

Set in a French prison, the central character Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim) undergoes a process of self-discovery. Malik, born in France to Arab parents, is sentenced to six years for an assault on policemen. He soon becomes the servant of a sadistic Corsican gangster, César Luciani (Niels Arestrup), who virtually runs the jail. Divisions exist between the Corsicans who run the prison, and the Muslim inmates. César gives Malik an ultimatum; killing Reyeb, a gay Arab who’s shortly to give evidence in a mob trial, or be killed himself. The corrupt authorities won’t help him, since César controls them. Malik relents, befriends and kills Reyeb. His first prison initiation complete, Malik becomes César’s eyes and ears whilst secretly learning Italian and Corsican. Malik is given increasingly greater responsibilities. César manages to get Malik a day’s leave, to prepare him to take his place again in society but in fact used to run criminal errands. Unbeknown to Cesar, Malik has found other allies in and out of prison. Malik steadily leaves his mentors behind as he learns to play both sides against each other, manipulating racial tensions, becoming as ruthless and decisive as his enemies. However many prison cliches exist in the movie, Audiard’s forceful direction turns this prison-crime thriller into a thoughtful, brutally moving film. The ongoing physical and mental education of the initially illiterate and naive Malik is profoundly told, and Tahar Rahim is a revelation. Rahim’s moving portrayal illustrated the vulnerability and loneliness Malik felt throughout his incarceration. Niels Arestrup conversely mirrors Rahim’s performance with the same brutish subtlety, a hopeless, simmering realisation that his dominance may be on the wane. Not to mention an unparalleled sequence involving a razor blade which you are unlikely to forget, the best film of the year.

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