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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
One of the truly great films of 2010, "A Prophet" is an unforgettable account of a young man's experiences in a French prison.
Malik El Djebena is only 19 when he's sentenced to six years in prison for a crime he claims he didn't commit. Though an Arab, Malik becomes the cat's-paw for an aging Corsican mob boss named Cesar Luciani whose influence in the prison has begun to wane as more and more Muslims are brought in to swell the prisoner ranks. Eventually, the ever-resourceful Malik finds a way to straddle the lines separating the various factions in the prison, while at the same time partnering with his buddy to run a hashish operation when he's out on his frequent 24-hour leaves.
The beauty of "A Prophet" is that we really get the sense that, had he been dealt a halfway decent hand in life, Malik might have actually been a kind, caring person, instead of the lost soul that he's become. But the lack of any parental influence in his life, his illiteracy, and now his consignment to prison life have left him with few viable options other than to become involved in mayhem and crime. He's horrified by the fact that, as a kind of loyalty test early on, Luciani forces him to murder in cold blood a man he doesn't know and might even like under other circumstances. And there are heartbreaking moments throughout where we sense the goodness in Malik's tortured soul. His appreciation of simple kindnesses, his attempts at learning to read, his childlike wonder as he looks out of a plane window for the first time, his tenderness with a buddy's newborn son - all go a long way towards mitigating some of the truly despicable acts of violence and murder he's called upon to do. The brilliant screenplay wisely refuses to judge Malik; it simply presents the options and parameters that have been given to him by fate, society, nature, what have you - and watches as he maneuvers through, in and around them in order to survive.
Harsh and brutal as this film can be at times - for it never shies away from portraying what life is like in a prison setting - it is in those more lyrical moments, the ones in which we are allowed to see into the heart of this young man, that "A Prophet" achieves true masterpiece status.
Tahar Rahim rises to the challenge in a brilliantly understated, award-worthy performance as Malik, capturing our sympathy and concern throughout. Niels Arestrup is also outstanding as the brutal and demanding Luciani, as is Adel Bencherif as Malik's one friend from prison who serves as both a positive and a negative influence on the young man.
Directed with unerring conviction and power by Jacques Audiard, "A Prophet" is a cinematic work of art - and a movie not to be missed.
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