I don’t discriminate against film length but in a festival setting, when by 4 PM you’re on film number four of the day, a two and a half hour film could be a daunting challenge but when a film captures your attention as strongly (and quickly) as Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet, 2 ½ hours doesn’t seem long enough.
The film stars relative newcomer Tahar Rahim as Malik El Djebena. A youth offender, Malik’s latest lawbreaking is the first as an adult and he’s sentenced to six years of hard time. A pretty face with no one on the inside, he’s alone in a world of allegiances where looking at someone the wrong way is enough to get you killed but Malik isn’t stupid. He reluctantly takes on a job that aligns him with the Corsicans who rule the prison and instantly goes from no-one to protected guy. Over the years, he builds alliances and relationships while always being on the lookout for his next opportunity and when a deal leaves Luciani, the most powerful and influential of the inmates and the man who essentially saved Malik, alone, Malik becomes his right hand man until a series of events leaves Malik fending for himself.
Though the goings on, the hierarchical system and abuses will come as no surprise to fans of prison dramas, Audiard and co-writer Thomas Bidegain take what we already know and weave a drama full of mystery, adventure and even humour. There’s always a plan on top of a plan, and Audiard and Bidegain’s script doesn’t handhold or spoon-feed the audience through the various happenings choosing instead to push the viewer to actively consider the characters’ actions and intent.
Even with a strong script,
Some have argued that Audiard’s film glamorises life “on the inside” and encourages individuals to continue in their law breaking ways rather than encouraging rehabilitation. It’s a fair argument but one must not overlook the fact that the reality of prison includes survival and Malik does what he needs to do in order to cope and yet one can’t help but feel that Malik never loses his moral compass. He knows and even suffers when faced with life or death decisions and though his morals should be questioned, there is a real sense that he knows and understands exactly what he is doing and that it is not the ideal course of action.
A briskly paced, brilliantly acted film,
See VIFF screening schedule for show times.