A Prophet (Un prophete)

Sep 29, 2010 by Tom Jones

Sentenced to six years in prison by French courts, a petty criminal Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim), is quickly introduced into the inner workings of prison life–and finds himself at the bottom of its food chain; no connections, friends, protectors, or affiliations.

He’s Arab and Corsican, naïve, shy, inexperienced, and illiterate.

This all changes, when the leader of the major Corsican Mafioso, César Luciani (Niels Arestrup) demands that Malik murder another Arab, Reyeb, (Hichem Yacoubi).

He complies to save his own life, and does so in an explicitly violent scene. From that point, Malik effectively becomes under the Corsican’s protection, and as the name of the film implies—from an internal and external perception—Malik proves to be a quick study in crime, cunning, survival, murder, drug running, and also bootstraps himself from illiterate to become literate, through the prison’s classes– where he meets his only friend he has, and can trust—Ryad (Adel Bencherif).

A Prophet” was directed by Jacques Audiard. Like some other prison tales “A Prophet,” which won the grand prize at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, is steeped in culture, ethnicity, time and identity.

Its subject is an individual in a context, and while Malik, a stealth presence is the story’s focus, he’s also part of an inquiry on power.

No matter how far the tale takes us—it horizontally and vertically integrates the story and characters intricate balance of existence– inside and outside the prison’s walls; back to the unexpected rise of Malik.

This shows just how the little things many miss, are the same exact things that make for a few to become more than what they or others would ever have thought.

When he first enters prison for a vague crime involving an assault, Malik arrives as a relative innocent, but, more important to his trajectory; he’s unschooled both as a criminal and a citizen.

A Prophet is about the education of a young man within a specific social order. You could read it as an allegory about France and its uneasy relations with generations of Arab immigrants and their children.

As usual, there is room for diverging, even contradictory interpretations, and the political certainly is as much at play here as the need to fit in; not the want.

From César’s prison assistant, to becoming his eyes and ears inside and outside the prison, as César arranges for Malik to have day passes to take care of his outside Mafia business—the arrangement of prisoner swaps, casino negotiations, to the violent execution of César’s Mafia boss–at the end, the last man standing is Malik.

Malik’s swift and unpredictable survival is only second to his quick study in the art of cunning—and at the end he betrays César, to join with the Muslims.

By that time, the Corsicans have all wiped each other out, and Malik’s only friend, has succumbed to testicular cancer.

The film is a study of raw human survival and ambition—and by comparison, the Shawshank Redemption appears as a cake walk.

A Prophet is a film of epic proportions in the crime and drama genres.

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2 Responses to “A Prophet (Un prophete)”

  1. Laure says:

    An excellent, dark movie about France’s racial politics, and how the prison system turns petty criminals into full -blown gangsters. Great script, direction and acting.

    [Reply]

    Tom JOnes Reply:

    @Laure, Thanks for the feedback. Your comments are completely indicative of the situation in France’s prisons.

    [Reply]

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