Year: 2009 (U.K Release 2010)
Director: Jacques Audiard
Screenplay: Jacques Audiard, Thomas Bidegain, Abdel Raouf Dafri, Nicolas Peufaillit
Starring: Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup
Plot Synopsis is here
Be it mainstream or art house, I always get very worried about blurbs...in fact I hate them. They are taken out of context, many of them these days don't even say that the movies good and worst of all, because of the first two reasons Joe Six pack easily takes these quick soundbites as gospel because well it's easier than reading a review. Although that last part sounds like good ol fashioned bitterness, but in all seriousness how can you trust the words "BEST FILM OF THE YEAR" splashed on a Cover and poster when you look closer and realize that the quote is from the quality publication such as Zoo or Nuts? I can see it now....tits, tits, tits then a 15 word review from someone yelling that The Business is like Football factory times 10 and way more excellent.
This doesn't exclude more highbrow outlets who may have written in-depth reviews only to see what they've written condensed into a one word description. "Exquisite!" They holler. But does that mean the art direction? Heaven help me if I sit through something with "Exquisite" doilies for teacups in the Mise-en-scene only for it to have yet another cardboard performance by Keria Knightly.
This brings me to Un Prophete (A.K.A: A Prophet) a film which has had those evil, EVIL blurbs creeping up on it's poster, and which will no doubt ruin what ever DVD cover it will produce. Winner of the Grand Prize at Cannes and right now currently holding a 97% Fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, Un Prophete is a modern day crime film in which a lazy writer such as myself could say is "in the same vein as generic gangster film". Sounds like a good blurb, no?
Only it's not. In fact compared to more populist choices, it's way more dense. A lot happens in the film, which has a time line that spans over years and not only is it set within the claustrophobic walls of prison, but the film is loaded with the racial tensions that the french can place in the frame with so much more confidence than Hollywood (with a tiny nod to the politics of the time seeping through). The film is also plot heavy, with a multitude of characters and secondary characters whizzing by. People come and go but throughout the center of it all is the lead character Malik who is played by young newcomer Tahar Rahim. We watch this young, prisoner through his jail sentence and watch him grow from a naive 19 year to something else entirely. What he grows into I will not divulge but how is a quietly absorbing tale that may require a second viewing to get my head around.
In most crime/gangster films, we follow a simple arc that hasn't changed much since the Golden age of Hollywood (see Scarface, White Heat) here, we get something a little different. This is a film that has everyone hold their cards close to their chest. We learn nothing until the characters learn something, and just when you think you know whats going to happen, a new development in plot will appear and throw a curve ball. This has much to do with how the character of Malik is written. Considered an Arab by the Corsican and a Corsican by the Muslim communities, when we first see him, he is like a sheep; timid, lost and docile but to watch him grow from within this environment is engrossing. By the end of the film you've seen a generation pass, both literally and figuratively and it's not the same person you saw from before. Because he LEARNS. This is not a cookie cutter character from the staple of generic genre film making but a character who watches, listens, thinks for himself and responds rationally to what is put in front of him. It doesn't feel like a script is providing this, it feels like what a real, fully formed person would do in the situation.
But what makes Malik so watchable is due to the person playing the part. Tahar Rahim plays Malik with an utter conviction. It helps that he is an unknown, but despite this, Rahim consumes the role fully. His performance held my attention throughout. Which is not to say that the secondary performers don't have their moments. In fact from the acting side of things, everyone carries their weight, but it's Rahim's anti-hero that drives the film.
It isn't just the acting that works. Jacques Audiard crafts some effective scenes throughout the movie. Highlights being of course the "razor scene" and a strikingly tense execution moment in a 4 by 4. Audiard turns the screws at just the right moments to keep the story interesting and although at times he becomes a little indulgent (there's a few random dream sequences that served no purpose in my view), and the film is longer than it may need to be, the film remains entertaining through it's running time.
Considered one of the better foreign films of last year, Un Prophete is a solid drama with some great moments. In all honesty I did expect more from the film (damn blurbs), but by the end of the feature, not only was I happy with the destination the film took me to, but I was surprised with the route in which it went. For something with a bit of bite, you can do worse than checking out Un Prophete.
Hear me Rave about this on The Cinematic Dramatic Podcast at Geek Planet Online