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A Prophet

 A Prophet

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4.5 out of 5

JACQUES Audiard’s prison thriller A Prophet is an instant classic.

Intelligent, thought provoking and genre re-defining, it took last year’s Cannes Film Festival by storm and has been winning friends and influencing people ever since.

Tahar Rahim stars [or rather mesmerises] as Arab teen Malik El Djebena, who is sent to prison for six years for an unspecified crime and given a quick and brutal initiation into the prison’s criminal system and hierarchy.

Where most young men might flounder, however, Malik proves himself to be an astute learner and allies himself with veteran Corsican crime lord Cesar (Niels Arestrup) even though he is aware he’ll be treated as a dogsbody for some time thereafter.

His affiliation affords him protection, however, and gradual influence and Malik patiently ascends the hierarchy to become a formidable player inside and outside of the prison walls.

Audiard’s film tears down as many prison cliches as it embraces, as well as the stereotypical portrayals of Arabs to emerge as a searing crime drama in its own right.

At two and a half hours, it requires a lot of patience and close attention but the rewards are rich and plentiful.

Malik’s journey assumes spiritual and supernatural elements at times, particularly in his relationship with the ghost of the former inmate he was forced to murder early on.

But it also keeps its feet planted firmly on the ground, providing viewers with a volatile and violent reality that feels dangerous, often corrupt and prone to betrayal.

Rahim is excellent as Malik, displaying the required maturity beyond his years, and his relationship with the more wily Arestrup is nicely played – never sentimental or paternal, but difficult and always on the verge of collapse.

While his dealings with the outside world pave the way nicely for a brilliant final scene that tantalisingly sets up the possibility for a sequel should Audiard do as he’s hinted.

At a time when European cinema has recently delivered top-drawer crime thrillers such as Mesrine, Il Divo and Gomorrah, Audiard’s A Prophet is another emphatic entry into the genre that really demands to find a wide audience.

In French, with subtitles

Certificate: 18
Running time: 149mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: June 7, 2010.