French Filmmaker Jacques Audiard’s 2005 breakthrough hit The Beat That My Heart Skipped, centered around a young man who tries to find redemption from his criminal life by following the path of his mother and becoming a concert pianist. Lauded by many critics as one of the best foreign language films of the last decade it propelled actor Romain Duris and director Audiard into the forefront of French cinema. Duris has gone on to star alongside Juliette Binoche in Klapisch’s Paris, Russian Dolls and in Honore’s Dans Paris. Meanwhile eager audiences have been anticipating what Audiard would offer with his ‘tricky’ second full length feature. Well after much festival buzz, it’s finally here, and instead of the usual disappointment that comes with these tough follow ups Audiard has out done himself with Un Prophete, a film that continues to depict his fascination with the French criminal underground onto the big screen.
Un Prophete is an engrossing yet terrifying prison drama centralized around a young Arab by the name of Malik. We join Malik at the beginning of a six year sentence. It’s never really explained to us what he’s been convicted off, yet this is not important to the plot, and if anything it helps us see Malik without any unnecessary bias regarding his background. Young and impressionable, and with no family ties or connections to the outside world he is a perfect target for the gangs that continue to operate inside the prison system. Entering prison as a keep your head down, solitary sort it’s not long before he is called upon to perform an unthinkable task in exchange for protection by Cesar Luciani (Niels Arestrup) head of the Corsican gang that control the inner workings of the prison. What happens’ kick starts a domino effect which turns our young man from juvenile delinquent to a leading figure of the criminal world that thrives deep inside the judicial system. Taking education wherever he can find it, whether it be criminal or otherwise he soon learns more than just how to survive, but how to rule.
Tahar Rahim plays the Arab prisoner, giving an equally impressive performance as Duris did in The Beat That My Heart Skipped. A newcomer to the cinema world his performance is an example of Audiard’s skill for unearthing new talent and polishing it up to perfection.
Set almost completely within the prison walls, using very few stylistic gimmicks the film relies on its perfectly crafted cinematic language to make you feel confined in this world of confinement. With the films cast being made up of almost completely unknown actors, its depiction of prison life and organized crime seems so realistic that its cynical attack will rile you up and leave you both angry and saddened at what you witness.
In conclusion Un Prophete is an incredibly well made expose of the problems that dwell in the justice system and the mindset of those who struggling to survive within such a brutal world. Asking the age old question, Is it really wise to detain men of a criminal nature amongst others from whom they can learn from? Menacing yet beautiful, with each scene as important as the last, Audiard has managed to create a visually exquisite film that is equally as stylish as it is socially important.
Director: Jacques Audiard
Cast: Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup, Adel Bencherif, Hichem Yacoubi
Runtime: 155 Mins
Release Date: 22nd January 2010