A Prophet [un Prophete] Movie Review
After spending his childhood in custody, 19-year-old Malik (Rahim) transfers to an adult prison. He soon has his gentle naivete knocked out of him by Cesar (Arestrup), leader of the fearsome Corsican gang that rules the roost. As an Arab, Malik is in something of a no-man's land, caught between the Corsicans and the Muslims. And he uses this wisely over the next few years, learning about economics with the help of his friend Reyeb (Yacoubi) and making dangerous links with the Muslims and gypsies to become a confident kingpin himself.
Audiard tells this story tightly from Malik's perspective, with surreal touches such as the way he's haunted by the first man (Bencherif) he is forced to kill.
The way Malik slides between warring factions leads people to consider him as a prophet, and indeed there's something visionary about the way Malik redefines ancient feuds in a 21st century way. And even though he indulges in some nasty violence, we see an underlying decency that hints at an ultimate, difficult redemption.
In other words, there's a lot going on in this film. The long running time flies by, and even when things get overcomplicated, we are riveted by the spiralling intensity of each scene. Malik's 12-hour days of prison leave are contained adventures all their own. And the relentless brutality is skilfully undermined by moments of tenderness along the way, most notably in his growing relationship with Reyeb and his wife (Bekhti) and child.
The film hinges on Rahim's breakout performance, which is extraordinary. His scarred body hints at a rough past, and yet we see softness in his eyes even as he becomes toughened. Since we so fully identify with him, the violence takes on a heart-stopping quality we rarely see on film. And even as the plot becomes somewhat fragmented, we never lose track of this young man who seems on the verge of losing his soul in a society that simply doesn't care about him.
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