Watching Jacques Audiard’s searing, muscular jail drama A Prophet brought two questions to light: 1.)
had anyone captured the state of a nation with such vigorous, confident strokes before? and 2.)
since when did Antony Worrall Thompson become so teeth grindingly terrifying? Audiard took four years to bounce back from The Beat That My Heart Skipped, but come back he did with pleasing brutality in both
content and style.
Throwing body and mind at A Prophet, he grappled with the screenplay before stepping behind the camera. We followed Malik El Djebena, a 19 year old Arab about to start a six-year stretch, and like Malik we were thrown into the lion’s den; the journey ahead not for the faint hearted.
A fluid social realism flowed from frame to frame, Malik’s search for self surely having particular resonance to the growing Arab population in France, the walls of prison holding up a mirror to the country’s racial issues, but never in crude fashion.
Two powerhouse performances pulled this remarkable film together. Malik is played by Tahar Rahim, a jobbing actor who randomly shared a cab
After he proclaimed himself a fan and embarrassed himself somewhat, Audiard couldn’t get the Algerian born actor out of his mind, and indeed
Malik’s transformation from petty criminal to world weary gangster is a master class in character development.
It couldn’t have been achieved without the startling support of vet actor Niels Arestrup, though.
The beardy Corsican jail lord Cesar Luciani watches and mentors Malik, his guidance shaping the young prison debutant and the film itself with vicious
intensity. Smart, absorbing cinema doesn’t come classier than this.
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