Review by Mohit Kilam
Director: Jacques Audiard
Language: French, Arab, Corsican
Year: 2009 | Duration: 155 Minutes
To come of age, at its very core, is independent of time and its progression. Arguably, you never really come of age, you only grow with it within the parameters of good or bad, love or hate and black or white. The nature of growth, in this context, is contemporaneous with life and often, a result of choices you make during its course.
Un prophete (A Prophet), directed by Jacques Audiard is a brutal prison drama that shows the transformation of a juvenile convict, coming of age and turning into a crime-lord by means of the learning he receives while serving his term at the prison. Malik (Tahar Rahim) is just 19 when he’s put behind bars, for well, having punched a cop. He’s got little to do with crime and other ways that entail the prison life when he comes in and understandably, intends to quietly serve his sentence. He’s assaulted and bullied at every turn by the racist Corsican thugs who run the place. The guards and warden act helpless, paying the least amount of attention to what happens to an “Arab criminal” in a French Prison and he is ultimately blackmailed into killing a new Muslim inmate, Reyeb, who is slated to testify against a Corsican by the mob boss, Cesar (Niels Arestrup), leaving him with the only alternative of his own death. Here, we get a grim insight into his first education in deceit and murder as he is trained to lure the homosexual, Reyeb, into a situation where he can kill him. He kills the fellow Muslim prisoner in one of the most gripping yet disturbing sequences of the film and comes under the protection of Cesar in spite of being an Arab himself, being more and more useful to the Corsicans thence.
The film takes us into the French underworld and Malik masters, bluffing his way through each dire situation while we see what goes on his mind — calculating the worst thing that can happen — a beating here, a little time in solitary confinement there. We see his cunningness, and his sense of tribe, growing with each move, with each crime. but His Arab roots, however, keep him from being completely accepted into the Corsicans., So he reaches out to make friends elsewhere, at the same time acting more as an informant for Cesar. Malik cleverly starts a war within the Corsican organization and gradually sides with the Muslims as the Corsicans destroy themselves in gang wars. Malik also learns to read in prison and studies other subjects, such as economics, which he uses to his advantage in his business. The guilt of having killed Reyeb makes him often confront Reyeb’s ghost trying to give him faith but that also fades away as he kills more and more people.
Malik enters prison a scared, introvert boy, clueless about what he’s in for. He emerges from prison a man of wealth and power, much smarter, tougher, and a ruthless murderer. The film’s distorted ending, marks the new beginning for Malik as he finishes his term, an unknown future brimming with possibilities, bad and good, giving us a glimpse of the feelings he has seemingly developed towards his godson and the wife of his terminally ill friend.
Audiard has created a long, involved, relentlessly brutal but gripping and thrilling picture that has the feel of being inspired from life itself., By the end of this film, you want to meditate and erase yourself of the aftertaste of Malik and his six years in prison. Strangely, like Reyeb’s ghost, it lingers on.