Film: A Prophet

Jacques Audard directs a prison based epic, where we see an inmate coming of age. From a boy to a man, but are you capable of such growth; in a cesspit that defines your existence? I doubt it. Just watch and learn where courage, faith and strength arrive from. From places where you would never expect them to come from...

Follow Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim) through his hard knock life, as a first time prisoner serving six years in a tough French prison. Watch him climb the ladder in a Corsican gang under the tutelage of Cesar Luciani (Niels Arestrup), the big boss inside the prison. We can see this boy grow to a man in an amazing and well thought out journey. Dealing with Cesar’s retribution for his mistakes must make him smart and quick. Or does he succumb to murderous intent?

Racial tensions ready to explode at any time within the prison, Malik manages to play both sides. How does he survive in such a precarious position? Arabs and Corsicans locked in a deadly duel of power within the prisons high walls, but it is contacts on the outside who are worth their weight in gold.

Can Malik come through his six year stretch a better man? More than just the young thug that he originated from? Be advised this is not an easy journey with gritty realism, murder, drug dealing and gangland politics, but no-one said this was going to be a cakewalk.

When Malik first enters the prison as a young thug, sent down for six years for assaulting a police officer, he is dazed, bewildered and struggles to cope. You are thus treated to an excellent montage of scenes that are directed at outlining a man’s struggle in this land bound hell. The story is presented to you here as a simple struggle to survive. This is underlined by a scene where Malik is beaten and robbed for his sports shoes in the prison yard. He does, however, show his mettle by seeking retribution from his attackers, but although his determination is there, he is ultimately alone, and this is demonstrated by another beating dished out to him for his impertinence.

Cesar Luciana (one of the bosses for the Corsican mob) is introduced quite effectively into the picture by scenes that display his power and control within the prison. You are left with no doubt that he has the guards under his influence, and he can essentially walk around as a free man within those high walls.

As our introduction unfolds, we see Reyeb (Hichem Yacoubi) being transferred into the prison. This is a character that you instantly do not like. Firstly the viewer can see that his presence alone is an issue for Cesar, whom we are infatuated with at this point, but, secondly, we see him attempt to solicit felatio from Malik in the showers in return for some hashish. This is just nasty, but prison life all the same. However – it is here that things start to get a little interesting, as Cesar uses his power and influence within the prison to manipulate Malik into murdering Reyeb.

With such utter power and absolutely no remorse, Malik is driven down the road of murder in a vehicle, driven by Cesar that has no brakes. The viewer watches Malik go through great mental anguish, as one of Cesar’s henchmen trains him how to effectively murder Reyeb using a razor blade (which is to be hidden in the mouth, and used to slash his objectives Jugular vein). An interesting technique indeed! And you are treated to Reyeb’s gory ending before Malik, objective achieved, ingratiates himself into the Corsican mob. You must be made aware that at this point the movie continues into darker and more in depth dealings with the gangsters, whereas other, lesser gangster movies would have made that the plotline alone. You know you are in for a treat when you watch this flick.

Nevertheless, although Reyeb is now dead, he continues to play a recurring theme throughout the movie, as someone who is always in Malik’s subconscious. So, even when alone in his cell, Malik is never left unaccompanied. Reyeb seems to feature as his conscious and act as his sidekick – offering friendship and meaningful assistance when the lonely nights and hard cold walls surround him.

As Malik progresses through his incarceration, he befriends Riyad (Adel Bencherif). Riyad helps him educate himself to read and write. Once Riyad is released things get better for Malik, as he now has a contact and friend on the outside that will help him build his empire. Although Riyad is an Arab (and a Muslim), they find that they get on well. This is unlike how the other Arabs and Muslims treat Malik inside the prison. They hate him as a Corsican. But the Corsicans see him as an Arab, so where does he go? He goes his own way, and plays each group off against each other, all the while padding his own nest. Eventually, Malik learns how to speak Corsican (as well as French and Arabic, which he does from day one), and after revealing this to Cesar, bolsters his position in the gang. Cesar promotes him to his “eyes and ears” within the gang, and arranges day release from prison. This is so he can send him on various missions.

Challenge and reward awaits Malik, as he continues to build his contacts and grow his business. His first day outside the prison walls see him earn 5000 euros and get hold of 25 kilos of hashish to peddle. Excellent work indeed if you can get it. The audience joins Malik in these highs, to include watching him take his first air flight, through to the lows as we watch him escape a certain death at the end of a hoodlum’s pistol via some prophetic visions. This is clearly what the movie is about. This man seems to truly have Mohammed, Allah and all the virgins on his side. Suffice to say, the story is action-packed and always keeps the viewer interested to see what happens next, in a true rollercoaster ride of emotion and tension.

At first pushed into a lifestyle where he had little choice, but eventually taking the bull by the horns and coming out on top. An excellent; realistic and grimy portrayal of a man coming of age and taking care of his business the only way he knows how. With guts, determination, a steely focus and with a little bit of an angel’s fortune as prophetic visions and lady luck herself seem to be on his side.

As a viewer you are always on Malik’s side, with much emotional attachment to his character. Find yourself savouring the sand, which was smuggled in from the beach in his shoe, feel it running through your fingers whilst you are sat alongside him in a pokey, dirty French prison cell.

Atmospheric with excellent cinematography, A Prophet will have you on the edge of your seat and leave you shell shocked at times. Is he truly untouchable with the fate and destiny of a bona-fide prophet? You will have to watch and see!

Fan: Madfred

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