Un prophète (Jacques Audiard, 2009)
Nominated for best foreign film at the 2010 Academy awards, Un prophète, beaten by a lesser film, sets itself amongst the great films of the first decade of the 21st Century. The story of the young Arab of 19 years old Malik entering in jail for 6 years. He has no family, no friends, no allies, no enemies, he doesn’t know how to read and write. Shortly he’ll understand that his only chance to survive is to “work” for the Corsicans. But our protagonist is a fast learner, he’ll learn to read, to write, to speak Italian, and more important to make connections and be influent. His stay in jail will bring him from a nobody to the head of one of the most important group of gangsters.
Life in prison is hard and the hierarchy of the groups must be respected as for the dominant ethnies. This is more than the passage of a man from boyhood to manhood or the adoption of a lone kid by a substitute father or even the orphan recreating his own family. Well, this is the amalgam of all these elements blended together as for the religious journey a man must handle to get through in his life. This last element is symbolized more than actually being explicit to the viewer, there’s some kind of purification through the process and even if Malik conspires against the law he tries to unite and instore peace amongst the many gangs who wants to control the drug traffic. There’s also a deeper symbolism when the “propos” of the film is analyzed with the religious aspects of Muslim, but this critic isn’t a specialist of religions. The further comments will get on the filmic qualities of the film.
For the visuals, Audiard took an almost documentary style of filmmaking to shoot Un prophète. Even if this technique seems to be the way to shoot films nowadays, the treatment of it really fits well with the story. It gives an objective point of view as for a slightly realistic feeling to the images. The editing is traditional and we don’t feel too much cuts or too many overuses of axis. The cinematography gives a lot of latitude to the performances of the wonderful actors. Speaking of which, the presence of Niels Arestrup as Cesar Luciani and Tahar Rahim as Malik is unsettling in their truth and transparent work. They completely inhabit their characters without pushing too hard or even overplaying the dramatic emotions. The subtle but captivating soundtrack of Un prophète gently mixes the different heavy moments of solitude and meditation of the main character.
The love of foreign films seems to grow slowly amongst the cinephiles and sometimes the fact that the North American audiences should “read” the film stops them from seeing it at all. However, the most challenging movies are sometimes the ones that are most worth the look. Un prophète especially qualifies for that instance; its many levels of understanding, the quality of the acting, the richness of the script, and the mastered “mise en scène” are the main reasons why every film enthusiast should watch it.