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Nineteen year-old Franco-Arab Malik El Djebena is just starting his six year prison sentence in Brécourt. Although he has spent the better part of his life in juvenile detention, this stint is his first in an adult prison. Beyond the division of Corsicans and Muslims in the prison (the Corsicans who with their guard connections rule what happens in the prison), he has no known friends or enemies inside. He is just hoping to serve his time in peace and without incident, despite having no prospects once he's out of jail since he's illiterate and has no support outside of the prison. Due to logistics, the head of Corsican inmates, a sadistic mafioso named César Luciani, co-opts Malik as part of the Corsicans' activities, not only regarding what happens inside the prison, but also continued criminal activities outside. The innocent Malik has no idea what to do but cooperate. This move does not sit well with the other Corsicans, who only see Malik as a dirty Arab, and the Muslims who now ... Written by
When I read that this movie has more nominations than any other film for the European Film Awards (even more than Slumdog Millionaire) I decided to go and see it. I don't regret this decision and I hope the movie wins all six awards it has been nominated for.
This movie, about a young hoodlum who in prison becomes a dangerous criminal, is in the same league as last years's Gomorra. It shows the life of criminals as it is: tough, merciless and unscrupulous. This film is miles away from the romantic image of maffia-style crime gangs we know from Hollywood. There is no honour here, no attachments, no loyalty. Only self-interest. The style of the film reflects the rawness of its subject. The photography is meant to show life in a prison, not to please our sense of aesthetics.
Why is this such a good film? Because of the radical approach to show us nothing but the raw underbelly of France, but also because of the story which has many aspects. Malik, the central character, has no true identity at all: he is not a religious Muslim (he eats pork), but he is neither French nor Corsican. The members of the Corsican clan to which he is being attached despise him because he is not one of them, and so do the religious Muslims ('les barbus'). Another interesting aspect is the development of the relationship between Malik en the Corsican capo Cesar, with a very powerful apotheosis. And there is the changing of Malik himself of course, who in the beginning of this film seems to be devoid of any emotion at all, but in the end is capable of warm feelings towards his godson and the wife of his terminally ill friend.
After having seen Un Prophète, I regret not having seen Jacques Audiards other films.
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