moviereview colin fraser film movie australia review critic flicks the hurt locker
While not exactly a household name, writer / director Jaques Audiard is a man to watch. Well known in his native France for a body of social-realist drama that has exercised both heart and mind in splendid films like Read My Lips and The Beat My Heart Skipped, he's now tackled the criminal system in truly epic proportions. A not-so-subtle attack on incarceration and its role in society, Un Prophete is also a damn good prison film to rival the very best. Probably accounts for the slew of awards that went his way, including the recent Best Foreign Film Oscar nom.

Nineteen year old Malik (relative newcomer Tahar Rahim, more about him in a moment) is locked up for assault. Frightened, alone and unable to read, he's singled out by inmate king-pin César (Niels Arestrup) for an internal job. He may be a 'dirty Arab' (“at least dogs fuck in silence” opines one of César's men) but he's a useful one. Granted access and freedom's César no longer has, Malik soon becomes a fixer and before you can say leapfrog, the kid has become a man and a made man at that.

Un Prophete is a stunning piece of work. Audiard has long been a barometer of zeitgeist, populating his films with contemporary detail that reflects the swirl and buzz of the setting in thrillingly inspired ways. Prison life, with its polyglot of languages, accents and cultures, gives him an opportunity to exhilarate with a tangle of forces that that comprise the day to day business of prison life. And for these men, it is very much a business. Nor does he shy from the brutal reality of their work in toe-curling scenes of physical and emotional violence.

Not a film for the faint hearted, Un Prophete is a film to be savoured for its courage and strength, for it's demanding cinematography and exceptional performances (Academy, where's Rahim's nomination?). Above all, for it's ability to shock and seduce, often in the same breath. Be warned, films this good don't come along often.



Jacques Audiard’s film, The Prophet (Un Prophete), is set in a prison where there are gangs vying for the top dog position. This is a situation which has a twist in that the central character finds himself caught between the two main gangs in competition with each other – the Arabs and the Corsicans. Why the twist? Well, Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim), just happens to have French and Arab parentage.

This is not his only problem as he is also illiterate and this adds to his vulnerability. His position is at the bottom of the pecking order and there is only one way to go – up… Audiard set out to make a hero of his main character and this develops throughout the film as Malik learns to be attentive, to be guarded and reserved in his speech and above all, to not make the same mistake twice, as it would inevitably lead to his demise.

The Corsicans take him under their wing and encourage him to enrol in the prison school, but also show him how to be as ruthless as they are. At this point I thought of the adage, ‘be careful what you wish for…’ as this is the Corsicans ultimate undoing. Malik is a fast learner and manages to rise up through the prison ranks while working on his own agenda.

Malik befriends Cesar (Neils Arestrup), who plays the head of the Corsican gang with just the right degree of sinister aplomb. We learn that President Sarkozy has announced that many of the Corsican prisoners are to be re- located nearer their homes. This means that Cesar will be left without his backup and needs to train Malik to become his ears, eyes and weapon.

Audiard succeeds in showing his audience a very realistic side of life on the inside. His anti-hero has what it takes to survive the horrors that are part of the daily routine. We are drawn into this world with trepidation and curiosity. There’s also something satisfying in feeling sympathy for a character who is transformed when he reaches a position he would never have attained, if he had not found himself in such a dire situation to begin with.

This is a film about the power of the will and of a world that few of us will ever experience. It takes a French sensibility to make it work and places many films of this genre back into fantasy land as it resonates with gritty realism. Definitely worth the at times excruciating 155 minutes on the dark side. A Prophet not only won the Grand Prix at Cannes, but may win the Foreign Film Oscar as well.

moviereview colin fraser film movie australia review critic flicks the hurt locker