I’ve been lying very low so far this week so much so that I have very little to talk about. So, in the absence of live music, theatre, art, festivals, rants and raves, etc I thought I’d encourage you to go out RIGHT NOW and rent, buy, get the French film ‘A Prophet’.
A friend gave it to me a number of weeks ago and I’ve only now got round to watching it. It was quite a film, a rare jewel, one of those films that hits you from nowhere, sucks you in, stays with you, that you want to watch over and over, want to shout from the roof tops about. And I’m not the only one, last year it won, amongst other awards, the Grand Prix at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, a BAFTA at the British Academy Film Awards, Best Film Award at the London Film Festival, The Prix Louis Delluc 2009, 9 Cesars including Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor and was nominated for Best Foreign Film at The Academy Awards. In 2010 Empire magazine ranked it at number 63 in its “The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema” list.
So what makes it so special at a lengthy 150 minutes? It’s the clarity of narrative, focus and attention to detail that impressed me most and like many others who have written about ‘A Prophet’ it was, above all, the films central character and his well-executed “improbable rise from invisibility to dominance. As Luke Davies from The Monthly said “what gives [the film] such dynamic energy is the seamlessness with which this transition unfolds”. You care for someone who starts off as literally a blank slate in a prison (you know nothing at all about him except his name) and ends up as an underworld crimeboss.
So what’s it about? Well it’s essentially the portrait of a convict turned kingpin
After assaulting a cop, Malik (newcomer Tahar Rahim) earns a six-year prison bid. Though illiterate, the 19-year-old speaks French and Arabic. Instead of congregating with the Muslim inmates, he keeps to himself, providing a perfect target for Corsican Mob boss César (Niels Arestrup), who makes him a Godfather – like offer he can’t refuse: kill Reyeb (Hichem Yacoubi), an Arab set to testify against the Corsicans, or meet his maker. Malik decides he would prefer to live. In return, César offers him protection but stops short of treating him like an equal. When Malik isn’t serving coffee and making deliveries, he studies French and Corsu. With what he learns from the mobsters, he befriends two other loners, Ryad (Adel Bencherif) and Jordi the Gypsy (Reda Kateb), and starts a drug-smuggling operation. The years pass, and Malik takes advantage of his parole leaves to work both sides of the fence and, when the authorities transfer César’s crew to a different facility, the balance of power shifts from the aging master to the model student.
Although it’s long and subtitled (I know many people don’t like subtitles) this film is a masterpiece. It couldn’t be shorter than its 150 minutes; there are no dead spots, no wasted moments, every second is riveting and as I said before it’s the seamless transition from nobody to somebody and the quality of characterization that really strikes you as you sit, once the film is over, in awe at what you’ve just seen unfold before your eyes.
Put an evening aside and see it.
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