A Prophet

Calling this movie ‘the French Godfather’ is an over simplification. Sure, it’s a sprawling crime epic that epitomises the gangsters that it is trying to portray (where the Godfather focused on Sicily, here the lens is turned towards Corsica). However, A Prophet has a very unique personal identity and is also, by far, the best of the recent splurge of French crime movies- establishing Jacques Audiard as the premier French film director.

The film focuses on Malik, a young French/North African who is serving a six year sentence, and how he gets involved with the Corsican mobsters who control the prison where he is staying. At the foreground of the movie is the racism that has become such a key point of recent French drama. For those who saw Michael Haneke’s Cache and didn’t quite understand why the Franco Algerian conflict was still such a tender point, this is a good illustration of how exactly the two sides still consider each other. Set against Sarkozy’s new France, ultimately every action taken in the film is motivated by the distrust between the French and Arabic speakers.

The film starts with Malik being assigned to bump off a fellow inmate who is due to testify in a trial. The man happens to be an Arab and Malik is chosen for that very reason. Audiard makes it very clear that everything that happens afterwards is, in a way, derived from this first event. This is shown by the surreal presence of the dead man in Malik cell often talking to him and sometimes aflame. What commences from this point is a complex series of betrayals and assaults, but what remains at the front of the film is the notion of trust. Will the Corsicans ever trust an Arab? Why should Malik trust the Corsicans?

Tahar Rahim is a star in the making (indeed, he was nominated for the BAFTA Rising Star award last year) and is superb in a role that sees him take part in nigh on every scene. The film beautifully portrays French prison life (indeed it could be an advert for French prisons where the inmates are served mixed vegetable broth and entire baguettes) and the struggle of the convicted both on the inside and after release. There has rarely been a more original and threatening show of the criminal underworld and this easily trumps last years double bill of Mesrine pictures (which were also very good).

The film might not be concerned with style particularly, although the surreal elements show a certain je ne c’est quoi, but it is in the development of characters and the spider web of mistrust that Audiard finds his audience and brilliantly sucks them in.

Special Features: Screen tests and rehearsal footage offer an unusual, but interesting, insight into the film. Commentary is unintelligible with subtitles, so only of use if you speak French.


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