Saturday, 2 January 2010
A Prophet - Review
January always marks a rather busy time for a critic, as oppose to the summer which marks a busy time for an angry comic book fan boy. It has been four years since the gloriously talented Jaques Audiard had seriously announced himself on to the world cinema scene with his intimate crime tale The Beat My Heart Skipped, after a slightly anxious wait, we are finally treated to this long awaited follow up, A Prophet.
Sentenced to six years in prison, Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim) is alone in the world and can neither read nor write. On his arrival at the prison, he seems younger and more brittle than the others detained there. At once he falls under the sway of a group of Corsicans who enforce their rule in the prison. As the 'missions' go by, he toughens himself and wins the confidence of the Corsican group. Very quickly, Malik uses all his intelligence to discreetly develop his own network.
Jaques Audiard uses the setting and general plot as a social examination of the racism present within France and attitudes towards the Muslim community. One could argue it possess' similarities to Steve McQueen's 2008 film Hunger for its unique narrative and political commentary.
One of the wonderful aspects of this film compared to your usual prison/mafia dramas was its slightly outworldly interludes that linked the whole story together, made up of dream sequences and hallucinations from Malik. Visually, Audiard manages to create a rather serene backdrop in the prison that could, so easily, have been unbelievably uncomfortable to experience.
The performance of Tahar Rahim was a joy to witness, his own personal journey and character development brought a sense of genuine realism to the movie's ethereal moments. More curiously though he was one of the first central characters in a crime drama of this nature to even have a slightly endearing quality to him unlike, for example, Al Pacino in the first two Godfather films, or Robert De Niro in Goodfellas. However, like the previously mentioned cinematic gods, Rahim echoes the star quality and presence needed to carry a film such as this. Previous Audiard collaborator and veteran French actor Niels Arestrup showed his hardened experienced in the role of the cold hearted and ruthless mob boss César Luciani.
Worth mentioning is also the choice of music throughout the film, including Sigur Ros' wonderfully folky and playful single, Goobldigook, as well as the beautiful score from two time Oscar nominee, Alexandre Desplat - who had a busy 2009 working on films such as Fantastic Mr Fox, Curious Case of Benjamin Button, New Moon and Coco Before Chanel.
Intimate in its intentions, epic in its delivery. If it wasn't going to go toe to toe with The White Ribbon at this year's Oscars in the Best Foreign category, I would say it would be a safe bet. Regardless of that, A Prophet is an elegant prison drama attempting to get to the heart of the some of the underlying problems present within France at this moment in time. The performance of Rahim demands the attention of Hollywood as well as the rest of the world cinema industry. A moving, thought-provoking work of genre entertainment.
See This If You Liked...
The Shawshank Redemption, The Godfather, Romanzo Criminale, Goodfellas, The Departed
A Prophet is likely to be in your nearest arthouse/indie cinema throughout January. For Belfast readers, it will be shown in the QFT from the 22nd January.