....Around this time of year, (Oscar season), there are a lot of new releases in the cinema and there tends to be a lot of hype surrounding each. As you may have guessed, I err on the side of arty/foreign/worthy, (with the occassional splash of Hollywood/rom com), and A Prophet leans very much toward the former.
Runner up for the Palm D'or in 2009, director Jacques Audiard, (The Beat That My Heart Skipped), has realised a superb modern take on the prison/gangster format.
The film opens in confident fashion and doesn't relent for the next two and a half hours. (And at that length it is telling and indeed a miracle, that I did not look at my watch once).
Newcomer Tahar Rahim plays Malik El Djebena, a young Arab guy about to start a six-year stretch in prison for what appears to be violence against police officers. A 19 year old who is visibly, if only initially, intimidated at the situation he is now faced with, he is lured in to allegiance with César, the Corsican mobster with the guards in his pocket.
Malik is immediately forced in to the killing of fellow prisoner, Reyeb, which is played out in a chilling and bloody scene in the victim's cell. From this moment on he is sworn to protection by the Corsican mobs, but it is evident that the ordeal has only served to invite an internal crisis, part psychological, part supernatural. The burden of murder creates a grotesque, parodic "prophet", one that ultimately leads to César's downfall.
Intent on self-betterment, Malik takes classes, learns Corsican-dialect Italian and begins a rise through the ranks. The new Sarkozy government, intent on moving Corsican prisoners away from mainland French jails, leave César exposed and without protection. With Malik's rise, comes Cesar's demise - a power shift made all the more potent as it is evident that Cesar has become wary of Malik yet harboured feelings toward him as though the son he never had.
The intertwined supernatural element is just one factor that elevates this film in to the extraordinary. The victim, Reyeb, appears in Malik's conscience on regular occassions, whilst his dream sequences are played out in superb stop motion style.
Where the film also succeeds is in the soundtrack - intelligent, unusual but entirely fitting, but also the grading. The colours are incredible - deep, dark hues contrasted by more vivid colouring in the prophetic sequences. It all culminates together to provide a relentless, engrossing thriller, every minute of which is deliberate, well thought and a success. Go. Now.