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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Un prophète" tells the story of a somewhat naive but intelligent young
inmate from Arabic origins who rises through the criminal ranks to
become a big boss. Serve with an outstanding cast and an almost
exclusively males and non-professional actors, the film of Jacque
Audiard manages to prove that you don't need a so called bankable
actor/actress in order to make a masterpiece.
What you need is a vision, an excellent scenario and a perfect casting. Set mainly within prison walls, the film depicts the prison "career" of Malik el Djebena, a 19-year-old man of North African origin who was sentenced to six years in prison. At his arrival in prison, Malik (wonderfully played by Tahar Rahim) is forced by Cesar Luciani, a Corsican kingpin (played by the excellent Niels Arestrup) to kill a prisoner named Reyeb. What follows is a powerful film that grabs your attention from beginning to end. The film works on so many levels and yet achieves excellence in all of them. "Un prophète" works as a social description of the hellish atmosphere one could encounter in prison. The promiscuity, the dirtiness, the drug, the sex, the corruption are detailed through very well drawn out characters and situations. You live in prison and what you live isn't giving any concessions to reality. "Un prophète" is a thrilling gangster film deprave of any sort of Manichaeism. Between the buildings of a drug business, the contract to assassinate a mafia kingpin, the negotiation with a local mobster and the rise to power of a young bandit or "racaille", the film manages to link every single story and wrap them all in one big and dark vision of what the French society can also produce. Eventually the film triggers so many emotions; in 150 minutes the audience balances from bitterness to injustice and from violence to peace. Jacques Audiard and Stéphane Fontaine (director of photography) controlled with mastery both the "mise en scène" and the cinematography. Using here stop motion there torch like effect and opposing darkness to light they cut out possible definitions for the words loyalty or betrayal, friendship or servitude, destiny or curse.
The director of the excellent "de battre mon coeur s'est arrêté " and the very good "sur mes lèvre" signs here a haunting movie a unique cinematographic and emotional experience, a masterpiece.
Un Prophète :: Jacques Audiard :: France :: 2008 : 2h35
A young man is being admitted into prison. The scars on his body and face betray a violent past. He can barely read and write. He has no friends. Malik (Tahar Rahim) is 19 years old. Out on the concrete courtyard, he is recruited by the ruthless Corsican mafioso César (Niels Arestrup) to kill a rival passing through their prison. Malik is beaten into submission. His life could have ended right there and then. But that is not how it was to be. Malif comes out the corner fighting.
Most of the film is concrete slabs and dirt. There is the constant murmur of the rumours passed around in Arabic and Corsican if it is not in banlieue slang French. And then there is the violence. Nobody gets punished because nobody interferes. Even when inmates get killed there is no indication that they are being investigated. The detainees are all on their own. We do see the state's legal machinery operating in the background with lawyers and judges shifting paper. We see the inmates work in the prison factory sowing clothes. We see the willing bullies being schooled. But the penitentiary staff shine mostly in their absence. Malik knows it is going to be a long 6 years.
He takes what he can get, and tries to make the best of himself. He could have made an excellent career for himself in the army, if life had been different. He has the adaptability, the patience, the dedication, the intelligence and the lack of moral restraint to make it far, in the right framework. If only he had been in an organisation which could contain and direct him, rather than unleash him, as prison did. We see him slowly becoming a man to be reckoned with, creating his own new order. Make no mistake, this young man is taking you along to the bitter end.
Un Prophète is a tough film to watch, but immaculately constructed. I can not claim to have captured the full finesse of the all the criminal dealings, but it does not matter. The audience is thrown into the story as the young Malik is. Thrown in, to live it with him. And live it, you will. It is a masterfully made film with a clever script, an excellent cast and a surprising attention to detail. A rare pearl in the genre, bound to be as rewarded as director Audiard's previous De Battre mon coeur s'est arrêté, which won no less than 8 Césars! (incitatus.org)
At times hard to watch but in the end you come out with the feeling of
having watched a masterpiece.
Perfect acting, scenario, directing, cinematography & sound...
This is definitely not a Hollywood production, but the best of what french cinema can be.
Audiard is a great director, having previously made "Read my lips" which i also recommend.
The main actor Tahar Rahim is a revelation, keep an eye on him in the future.
Niels Arestrup is also quite good in his role as a corsican crime boss
One of the biggest surprises of 2009, Jacques Audiard's 'Un Prophète'
is the best French film in a decade, garnering strong critical and
word-of-mouth support and winning the Grand Prix in Cannes (which for
years now means that it's the actual festival winner). The surprise is
that the story is far from being original: a young Arab sentenced to
(adult) prison for the first time is forced by a Corsican mafia boss
running the strings there to do his bidding. By and by, he manages to
use his underling position to his own advantage. So it's a typical
hard-boiled underdog story - what makes it so great then?
'Un Prophète' doesn't differ much in style from the French films of late, which were often so hell-bent on displaying life as a gritty and boring affair, and resorted to radical violence to underscore this point, that spectators were almost forced to feel disgusted, which was then claimed to be a denominator of the film's artistic success. This phenomenon has been called 'New French Extremity'. What Jacques Audiard has done is to combine the aesthetics of this trend with the traditions which once made the French film industry the most power- and meaningful in Europe, namely to focus on the relationship of the leading actors. The result is a film that is totally engaging from the first minute, because it entrusts the actors with the task of transforming the script into something of their own making.
And boy oh boy, Tahar Rahim does that job. A newcomer with a little bit of TV experience, his performance carries 'Un Prophète' with amazing vigor. It's a big chance, and he takes it. Would this be an English-language film, he'd be a surefire contender for the awards. His nemesis is portrayed by Niels Arestrup in an equally flawless, yet much more routinized way, which juxtaposes the two characters perfectly. Add to this the sophisticated editing already present in Audiard's last film 'De battre mon coeur s'est arreté' (2005), and you have the best European film of 2009, in spite of a story that you will most likely have seen dozens of times already.
If you usually don't like European movies, or if you have only time to see one a year, watch this one - you won't regret it.
This was one of the first French film I have ever watched. I decided to
give it a go.
Initially I wasn't holding out much hope when I placed the DVD into my drive, I was wrong.
The film is a hard hitting which keeps you gripped and awaiting the clever plot, it doesn't not disappoint and the way in which the plot unfolds is clever as well as realistic. The actors do a very good job and the main actor is especially good, the white mob boss is also a superb actor.
The film is about an Arab who enters jail after a life of trouble. He soon becomes gripped into the underworld of gang violence, he then joins a white gang whilst carrying out jobs for them. Whilst he cleverly starts to build his own empire.
Go watch this film now, sometimes I don't watch films if I have not seen reviews or thousands of votes here on IMD. Trust me on this film, one of the best films I have seen in a long time and I am sure you will not be disappointed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A 19-year-old man of North African origin is sentenced to six years in
prison for assaulting a police officer. When he enters prison, he is
naïve, shy, and almost withdrawn and cannot read or write. When he
leaves six years later, he has become a self possessed, educated
individual, capable of controlling his own destiny as well as that of
others. Jacques Audiard's (Read My Lips, The Beat That My Heart
Skipped) A Prophet, winner of the Grand Prix Award at the 2009 Cannes
Film Festival, is an engrossing coming-of-age drama set in a French
prison in which Malik el Djebena (Tahar Rahim), a Muslim estranged from
his own community, is recruited into the ruling Corsican Mafia and
eventually becomes a gang leader himself. Though deeply involved in
nefarious and often bloody activities, the genuineness of his
personality makes him an appealing and sympathetic character and adds
depth to a riveting experience.
Based on a story by screenwriter Abdel Raouf Dafri, the film clocks in at a lengthy 150 minutes but never feels padded or stretched out. Unable to film in an actual prison location (because they were all being used), Audiard had his own prison built in an industrial area of Paris. As he explains, "Watching it take shape helped us build the prison in our minds, as well." When Malik first arrives, he is singled out by Corsican Mafia boss César Luciani (Niels Arestrup) and told to kill a fellow Muslim prisoner Reyeb (Hichem Yacoubi) by slitting his throat with a razor blade. If he refuses, he will be killed himself.
Once the job is done in as brutal a killing scene as you will ever witness or want to witness, Malik is put under César's protection, becoming the Corsican's Arab who carries out menial tasks for him inside the prison. Beset by visions of the deceased Reyeb, Malik, however, soon begins to educate himself on many levels, not only learning to read, but teaching himself Corsican and learning details of Luciani's business. More importantly for his survival, he learns how to operate among the various prison subcultures with their various rituals and codes of honor though he is still an outsider, not fully trusted by either group.
There is no shortage in the film of details involving drug traffic, sex, payoffs, and general prison corruption, things we have seen before, yet the level of our personal involvement remains high due to the heart pounding set pieces and the compelling performances of the lead actors. Slowly, César raises the level of jobs given to Malik, affording him the opportunity to leave the confinement of the prison on several day passes, one involving his first ever flight to Marseilles to negotiate with another Mafia kingpin. Little by little, Malik sets up his own enterprises with his friend Ryad (Adel Bencherif) who is suffering from cancer, and begins to establish his independence from the Corsicans. He becomes known as a prophet when he survives a bizarre car crash, an incident that has been foretold in a fantasy sequence.
Supported by a compelling original score by Alexandre Desplat and brilliant cinematography by Stéphane Fontaine, A Prophet is violent, often ugly and difficult to watch, but is redeemed by the quality of the direction, the outstanding performances by Rahim and Arestrup and the honesty in which it handles the conflicts among ethnic groups, conflicts that mirror French society as a whole. Tahar Rahim is little more than a cipher at the beginning, yet acquires considerable strength of character by the end of the film. According to Audiard, "When I looked into his eyes there was no melancholy, no tragedy, just someone very open, very light, very full of life." A mixture of gritty reality, flights of fancy, identity exploration, and psychological character study, A Prophet is one of the best films of 2009.
The storyline of this film is well documented by other reviewers. I
read the reviews at 2.30 this afternoon and by 5 PM I was in the local
cinema. I wondered if I could survive 150 minutes but I found myself at
the end wishing to know more, and rather regretting the end of this
fascinating movie. I am not an expert review writer but I found the
character portrayals so realistic that they nearly jumped out of the
screen. Yes there is violence, bloody in parts, but it is so
monumentally well filmed I could look away from the gore and towards
the film as a work of art. If there was a mixture of amateur and
professional actors, I could not tell the difference.
The names and functions of some of the various characters were lost on me but I got the general gist of it and I was motivated to consider the effect on the psychology of an unremitting regime of politics and violence. There is much food for thought here and I can unreservedly recommend it to all but the most squeamish.
A juvenile delinquent named Malik (Tahar Rahim) goes to prison after
spending most of his up-growing in juvenile correctional facilities.
Malik soon learns that he's no longer a small fish in an aquarium, but
a fry in an ocean. And swimming with the big fish is quite a different
state of affairs as he is bound to discover.
Pic's protagonist is recruited by the Corsican gang and being an Arab by appearance (granted, apparently not religiously), he continues to live as an outsider of not only society but also fellow inmates as he has done most of his life. But he continues to float and find his way behind the bars.
In the exquisite direction of Jaques Audiard, the film accelerates well through good character development and profound script. The education of Malik is in my opinion one of the main pillar of the film because it is an education on so many levels. Of least to get ahead in business. Dirty business, granted, but it is business nonetheless.
It's the small things that distinguishes this little gem from many other movies on prison culture. It has to be, Audiard knows this and has created yet another great piece of cinema for his fans.
Yes this movie is violence. Yes this movie contains racism and some unpleasant actors, but prisoners usually aren't stand up citizens. And these characters and location of the film are essential to the core message of the film, I guess if you don't know at least the basics of Islams or some of its myths then maybe the movie might go over your head. But I wouldn't dare spoil it for those who haven't seen it yet. But this movie is a modern work of art (and I adhere to a very strict definition of art) and even if you might not "get it" it should be thoroughly enjoyable, the cast does a marvelous job (a testament to the director's skill), and it's marvelously shot and cut. This is the kind of movie where you can't look away, every scene flows seamlessly into the next. So yeah, go watch it as soon as you get the chance.
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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