2 February 2010

A Prophet.

Saturday gone, I managed to catch the fairly well hyped, and award winning A Prophet (Un prophète), as stated previously I can be a bit of a fussy film goer/miserable twat, but regardless of someone loudly crunching his way though a packed lunch and two noisy apples in the very seat next to mine, despite the fact there were spare seats further down the row, you can't quite beat the cinny. So it's film review time again. But yeah, who on earth takes apples to the pictures?
Picnic munching film goers, lack of elbow room and arse cramp aside, I'd wanted to watch this over the last week and heard good things about it from those who had before me. There's nowt like a good gritty, grim Gallic-Corsican prison drama of a Saturday afternoon. Porridge this wasn't.
This may or may not, or probably will contain spoilers:
Directed by Jaques Audiard (The Beat That My Heart Skipped 2005) and with relative newcomer Tahar Rahim in the central role as Malik El Djebena, the somewhat epic A Prophet centres around a young Arab hood on his way into a tough six year stretch in France's toughest correctional facility, a previous young offender in his first adult prison. On his own from the off he is soon singled out by the prison's Corsican mafia, as always in this twisted, corrupt system they run the show. Authority means merely a uniform to those in the know.
At the same time he is singled out by those of his fellow faith, disgusted by his obvious lack of interest in his religion. Reluctantly taken under the wing of the very menacing incarcerated Italian inmate gang boss César Luciani (Niels Arestrup) he is blackmailed with little or no choice to whack a recently imprisoned Arab inmate named Reyeb who is set to testify against César in the coming weeks. This leads to the defining scene which everyone will talk about for years to come, very well played out and suspenseful until the horrendously graphic outcome, Malik is persuaded to befriend his target, to go to his cell and become sexually friendly in exchange for hashish, at the same time concealing a razor blade in his mouth, after much practice, he goes to Reyeb's cell at his carefully chosen moment he has to slice the jugular of his victim thus guaranteeing he won't be getting back up. Hurriedly, things don't go as smoothly as planned but he gets the job done in a bloody pulp of a mess, certainly not for the squeamish. This scene was as graphic as can be, so much so gasps were heard and heads were twitching in the stalls surrounding me.
This hired hit gives Malik total protection, which then charts the rise from innocent inmate to an untrusted Arab go-between, via a transformation into a ruthless hustler where bending the rules of the system are the least of his worries. Malik makes a transition from religious outcast to an unlikely mafia kingpin orchestrating business both on the inside and outside, but always haunted by ghostly nightmares and visions of the murdered Reyeb, constant reminders of his shunned Islamic faith heavy on his conscience.
Malik educates himself, an education which builds his very survival. Illiterate, he learns to read via classes provided and quickly picks up on the language of his Corsican inmates, secretly finding out about their business. While all the time discreetly building up his own harsh network, looking after number one with no remorse of the fate of his chief tormentors.

Perhaps it isn't hard to see why this has been compared against the likes of The Godfather and Goodfellas, and it is a clear example of epic European cinema doing it the correct way, doing it their own way - genuine stories, genuine characters.
Shot with stunning realism, dirty and devoid of any Hollywood style glamour and truly barbaric at times, A Prophet is one which may yearn for another viewing sooner rather than later. But I dare say at exactly two and a half hours this one dragged on ever so slightly, feeling just that little bit too long. Never the less this was certainly one of the better films I'll see this year. 4/5

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