Jacques Audiard :: France :: 2008 : 2h35
A young man is being admitted into prison. The scars on his body and face betray a violent past. He can barely read and write. He has no friends. Malik (Tahar Rahim) is 19 years old. Out on the concrete courtyard, he is recruited by the ruthless Corsican mafioso César (Niels Arestrup) to kill a rival passing through their prison. Malik is beaten into submission. His life could have ended right there and then. But that is not how it was to be. Malif comes out the corner fighting.
Most of the film is concrete slabs and dirt. There is the constant murmur of the rumours passed around in Arabic and Corsican if it is not in banlieue slang French. And then there is the violence. Nobody gets punished because nobody interferes. Even when inmates get killed there is no indication that they are being investigated. The detainees are all on their own. We do see the state’s legal machinery operating in the background with lawyers and judges shifting paper. We see the inmates work in the prison factory sowing clothes. We see the willing bullies being schooled. But the penitentiary staff shine mostly in their absence. Malik knows it is going to be a long 6 years.
He takes what he can get, and tries to make the best of himself. He could have made an excellent career for himself in the army, if life had been different. He has the adaptability, the patience, the dedication, the intelligence and the lack of moral restraint to make it far, in the right framework. If only he had been in an organisation which could contain and direct him, rather than unleash him, as prison did. We see him slowly becoming a man to be reckoned with, creating his own new order. Make no mistake, this young man is taking you along to the bitter end.
Un Prophète is a tough film to watch, but immaculately constructed. I can not claim to have captured the full finesse of the all the criminal dealings, but it does not matter. The audience is thrown into the story as the young Malik is. Thrown in, to live it with him. And live it, you will. It is a masterfully made film with a clever script, an excellent cast and a surprising attention to detail. A rare pearl in the genre, bound to be as rewarded as director Audiard’s previous De Battre mon coeur s’est arrêté, which won no less than 8 Césars!