“A Prophet” from Another Country
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Several months ago I saw the previews for “A Prophet” (French title: “Un prophète”) with my Syrian friend Tammer. He was eager to see it, for there aren’t a lot of films about Arabs.
Even director Jacques Audiard (“See How They Fall”) says he was trying to create “images for people who don’t have images in movies, like the Arabs in France.”
Let me tell you up front, this is not a political film about the Middle East. This intricate crime drama is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.
“A Prophet” introduces us to Malik El Djebena (well played by Tahar Rahim) who is serving six years in a French prison. Inside the prison walls he falls under the control of the Corsican mob who uses him as an assassin, arranging leaves that allow him to go on missions for crime boss César Luciani (Niels Arestrup). But Malik is biding his time, waiting for the moment when he can take control of his own destiny, no longer Luciani’s hit man.
Malik becomes known as a prophet when he survives a car crash that had been foretold in a dream-like vision. And step-by-step, he learns the details of Luciani’s business and begins setting up criminal enterprises of his own. In short, it’s the familiar story of an underdog’s rise to power – but masterfully told.
Audiard got the idea for making a prison movie when one of his films was screened inside a prison and he saw the appalling conditions there. To ensure the authenticity of “A Prophet,” he hired former convicts as advisors and extras.
“A Prophet” was France’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film in the 82nd Academy Awards competition. Although it lost to “The Secret in Their Eyes,” it garnered the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival and Best Film Not in the English Language at the 63rd British Academy Film Awards. Additionally, it won 9 Césars, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actor.
Not for the squeamish, this is a violent gangster movie told in a style that has been called “New French Extremity.” You’ll want to flinch, but you can’t make yourself look away.
The film shows the conflict among ethnic groups with brutal honesty. As one Middle Eastern observer said, “If you don’t know at least the basics of Islam or some of its myths then maybe the movie might go over your head.” He added, “Even if you might not ‘get it,’ it should be thoroughly enjoyable … every scene flows seamlessly into the next.”
My friend Tammer will get it.
[from Solares Hill]