Friday, November 6, 2009


By D.E.Levine

Director: Jacques Audiard
Writers: Thomas Bidegain and Jacques Audiard (screenplay), Abdel Raouf Dafi and Nicholas Peufaillit (original script)
Producer: Martine Cassinelli
Cast: Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup, Adel Bencherif, Hichem Yacoiubi, Reda Kajeb, Jean-Philippe Ricci, Gilles Cohen, Antoine Basler, Leila Behti, Pierre Leccia, Fouad Nassah, Jean-Emmanuel Pagni, et. al.
Original Music: Alexandre Desplat
Running Time: 155 Minutes
Country of Origin: France
Language: French with English subtitles
Genre: Drama

A powerful prison drama from French director Jacques Audiard, Un Prophete won the Grand Prix prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It is mesmerizing despite its long running time. Audiard is an amazing storyteller who weaves his tale flawlessly so that you never lose interest.

The lead, a wayward Arab youth named Malik El Djebena is brilliantly played by a first time actor, Tahar Rahim.

Landing in prison at age 19, the youth cannot read or write. Innocent in prison ways he's at the mercy of older, more worldly thugs.

Struggling to survive within the violence of the prison, repeatedly humiliated, forced under threat of death by the Corsican gang that runs the prison to befriend and murder a fellow Arab, the young prisoner is aligned with the Corsicans despite his wishes.

He serves the Corsicans as a gofer/slave, doing menial tasks in exchange for protection within the prison. Over the years Malik learns to read and write and educates himself in the ways of the prison, although his path is partially paved by the Corsican leader.

It's amazing to see the amount of crime that goes on while the prisoners are incarcerated, both in and out of the prison. The convicts continue to run their crime operations outside of the prison.

In the end, Malik learns so much that he manages to challenge the prison's existing power structure and by playing groups outside the prison against each other, he manages to construct his own empire.

What stands out immediately in this film is the violence and brutality, the raw impact of the encounters, and the believable characters as portrayed by the actors.

What the viewer takes away is the understanding of how power is manifested within the prison and within life.

Even within prison hatred exists, as the Corsicans show disdain and fear towards the bearded Muslims and are willing to practice extreme violence in order to maintain control.

The tale this film tells is almost like a coming of age tale. This Arab youth who is essentially a nobody within the prison structure goes on to become the most respected mobster in the prison.

We see it happen before our eyes and we're never bored as the director rolls out the story with minute details that make it believable.

Un Prophete is a commentary on race relations in France, societies in prisons and achievement through determination.