PROPHET. 2009. DIRECTED BY JACQUES AUDIARD. STARRING TAHAR RAHIM AND NIELS ARESTRUP. SCREENED AT THE IRISH FILM INSTITUTE AS PART OF THE 2015 FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
This award-winning film is a flat-out masterpiece. There’s no other word for it. It blew me away on a cold Sunday afternoon in late November, and that’s saying something, surely? It was screened at the Irish Film Institute on Eustace Street as part of the 2015 French Film Festival. Even better, the director himself, the great French film-maker Jacques Audiard, was there to introduce his work of pure genius. No, he didn’t pay me to say these things, haha. The film just really affected me, and in a good way.
Jacques Audiard, a neat, dapper little man stylishly-dressed in green jeans, highly-polished brown boots, a red cardigan and an actual cravat, talked to the nearly-full house with the aid of an interpreter. Even without understanding a word of French, I couldn’t take my eyes off the bald, bespectacled man at the microphone who chatted volubly and passionately about his film, which was nearly a decade in the writing. Many times, he said, he felt like throwing in the towel. Thank God he kept going, is all I can say to that.
He studied hit HBO Mafia drama series THE SOPRANOS, he told us, while working on his film. I could totally see the influence THE SOPRANOS had on the film, which is set in a French prison. He also told us that he decided against filming the movie in an actual prison. The reality of the setting would crush the life out of his film, was what he thought. As it is, A PROPHET seems so real that it’s almost like you’re watching real life unfolding in front of you, life at its grittiest and perhaps most sordid.
Listening to Monsieur Audiard (look at me, Frenching it up like a boss…!) talk about his work, I had the feeling even before I ever saw the film that I was in the presence of greatness. When he was done introducing his film, he swept out of the theatre with his entourage to much applause. After A PROPHET ended, a whopping two hours and thirty-five minutes later, I’d had it confirmed for me that here was a director whose other works I would have to check out as soon as humanly possible. To use the vernacular, he totally rocks.
A PROPHET is the story of Malik, a nineteen-year-old illiterate male of Algerian descent who is sentenced to six years in a French prison for attacking a policeman. The arc of Malik’s prison journey is clearly delineated. He starts off as the terrified rookie who’s never been shut away with the big boys before, and boy, is the prison rough! There’s a tremendous amount of prisoner-on-prisoner violence. In fairness, it’s the prisoners themselves who are beating the living shite out of each other and not really the guards at all, who in fact come across as quite human.
When Malik is eventually due to come out of prison, he’s no longer a scared, callow boy. He’s a prison-hardened man. He’s done murder, and more than once. In between times, he’s fallen in with inmate César Luciani, the real boss of the prison. The way Luciani and his buddies live the high life in prison is fully reminiscent of the prison scenes in GOODFELLAS. You know, with the Mobsters cooking fantastic meals for themselves out of ingredients they’ve had specially brought in from the outside, and using a razor to slice the onions for the spaghetti to the exact right degree of thinness…? Yeah, those guys. It’s really like that, apparently!
Anyway, poor scared little Malik is forced to do a job for Luciani and his band of Corsican heavies and criminals. After he does the job, he finds himself under the protection of the Corsicans. We see him learn every trick in the book as far as prison life and prison ways are concerned. He goes from being the scum on the bottom rung of the ladder to being a guy who gets a better cell with a TV and DVD player on which he can watch porn if he wants. He can even get a real-life woman to come in and ride him if he so desires, and he does. He thinks he’s living the high life, God love him.
But his rise and rise as a sort of mini-drugs-and-crime-kingpin is not without its pitfalls. After all, if you live by the sword, you’re gonna die by it, right? Or at least not stay lucky forever. Can Malik keep his head while all around him are losing theirs? You’ll have to watch this powerhouse of a film to find out for yourself.
Favourite scenes? The guy Malik’s supposed to kill encouraging a terrified Malik to learn to read and even promising to leave him his books when he gets out. It’s sad beyond words. Then, Malik and le canard (which means ‘the duck!’). Malik moving up in the world when Luciano’s fellow Corsicans get shipped out to different prisons closer to home and Luciano needs a new ‘go-for’ guy.
Malik meeting his baby nephew for the first time. Malik and his brother Ryad talking about Ryad’s testicular cancer. Malik comforting his little nephew and the two of them falling asleep together. It’s a glimpse of the life Malik could have one day if he ever decides to straighten up and fly right. Malik rejecting Luciano at the end and a shocked (and winded) Luciano not being able to do a damned thing about it.
This is a rollercoaster ride of a film. I clung on for all I was worth and, by the time I got off, my mind had been completely blown. I’m not a woman who’d ever thought that she liked so-called ‘man-thrillers,’ but I guess this means that sometimes I do. A PROPHET doesn’t feel like just a common or garden thriller, though. It feels like a masterpiece, or a magnum opus. So that’s what I’m calling it.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based performance poet, novelist, film blogger, sex blogger and short story writer. She has given more than 200 performances of her comedy sex-and-relationship poems in different venues around Dublin, including The Irish Writers’ Centre, The International Bar, Toners’ Pub (Ireland’s Most Literary Pub), the Ha’penny Inn, Le Dernier Paradis at the Trinity Inn and The Strokestown Poetry Festival.
Her articles, short stories and poems have appeared in The Metro-Herald newspaper, Ireland’s Big Issues magazine, The Irish Daily Star, The Irish Daily Sun and The Boyne Berries literary journal. In August 2014, she won the ONE LOVELY BLOG award for her (lovely!) horror film review blog. She is addicted to buying books and has been known to bring home rain-washed tomes she finds on the street and give them a home.
She is the proud possessor of a pair of unfeasibly large bosoms. They have given her- and the people around her- infinite pleasure over the years. She adores the horror genre in all its forms and will swap you anything you like for Hammer Horror or JAWS memorabilia. She would also be a great person to chat to about the differences between the Director’s Cut and the Theatrical Cut of The Wicker Man. You can contact her at:
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