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Audiard's Brilliant Crime Drama,
This review is from: A Prophet [DVD] (2009) (DVD)Jacques Audiard's 2009 film A Prophet is his brilliant, visceral follow-up to his outstanding 2006 film The Beat That My Heart Skipped. Both films display virtuoso narrative and cinematographic filmmaking skills, ranking them, for me, along with Michael Haneke's Hidden, as the finest French films to have been made thus far in the 21st century. The film won the Grand Prix at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the 2009 Oscar for Best Foreign Film, losing out to the (much inferior) Argentinian film, The Secrets In Their Eyes.
A Prophet tracks the progress of 19-year-old French Algerian Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim), as he finds himself serving a 6-year term in prison for an assault on the police, and needing to contend with the well-established and brutal prison regimes that are enforced not by the warders, but rather the gangs, organised along racial lines, ruling the roost inside. Foremost among them is the gang led by Corsican Cesar Luciani (Niels Arestrup), and Malik is soon made an offer he can't refuse (involving the brutal murder of a fellow inmate), and is thereafter guaranteed protection by Luciani's gang.
Audiard's film is a masterclass in all things cinematic. Acting-wise, Rahim (making his debut in a lead film role) is a revelation as Malik. In just as vital a performance as that delivered by Romain Duris in Audiard's The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Rahim shows talent way beyond his experience as he is transformed from the initially disaffected, reticent teenager to the confident and (increasingly) natural successor to Luciani's Mr Big. For me, however, the standout performance in the film is delivered by Niels Arestrup. Having first come to my attention via his brilliant (albeit relatively limited in terms of screen time) performance as the father Robert in The Beat That My Heart Skipped, here Arestrup is frighteningly convincing as the softly spoken, but uncompromisingly brutal gang boss. The scenes between Rahim and Arestrup contain some of the most powerfully intense acting to have hit the screen in recent years. It is also notable that Arestrup has, not surprisingly, landed a number of more mainstream roles following his performances for Audiard, for example in The Big Picture and even Spielberg's Warhorse (that man's talent spotters clearly know their stuff). I was considering whether there was any other current French film actor who could have delivered a performance of anything like the stature of Arestrup's - inevitably, I guess, Gerard Depardieu was the obvious contender for me, although I think even such a great actor as Depardieu would have struggled to compare favourably with Arestrup here. Another acting performance worthy of note in A Prophet is that of Adel Bencherif as Malik's friend Ryad. Audiard delivers some beautifully tender scenes between Malik, Ryad and Ryad's wife and child, as Malik's friend is diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Visually, the film is also outstanding. Cinematographer Stephane Fontaine has created some superbly muted and sparse backdrops to the events inside the prison, whilst also delivering some great action sequences (using hand-held cameras at times) as Malik leaves the prison on 'day release', during which he variously makes drug drops and carries out assassinations at the behest of Luciani. Also included are a number of brilliant dream sequence interludes, one of which (involving deer) foretells a car accident as Malik and associates speed along a country road - it is this event that gives Malik the moniker 'prophet' (and hence gives the film its title). Audiard also makes use of 'chapter titles' on the screen to denote the introduction of significant characters or events.
The film's original soundtrack is composed by Alexandre Desplat and provides a sparse, but moodily atmospheric backdrop to events, particularly inside the prison. Audiard also includes non-original music, including tracks from Talk Talk's Laughing Stock and music from Sigur Ros. The film also plays out to a brilliant version of Kurt Weill's Mack The Knife.
All-in-all then, A Prophet represents filmmaking at its most brilliant, and which stands, and indeed benefits from, repeat viewings.