Movie #49: A Prophet

I know I’m missing something about the highly-acclaimed, award-winning film A Prophet because even though I could see that it was well done, it didn’t impress me as the masterpiece that so many other people obviously think that it is. Definitely it’s impressive to watch the protagonist Malik El Djebena go from illiterate, hapless punk to drug kingpin in a matter of years. Tahar Rahim, who won multiple awards for it, gave an excellent, naturalistic performance as a young Arab sentenced to six years in a brutal French prison. While incarcerated, he comes under the protective thumb of a Corsican godfather named Luciani who initiates him into service by demanding that he murder another man. As time passes, Malik parlays all the perks of Luciani’s favour into his own side business running drugs. The movie is in some ways the flipside of a French movie I watched recently, The Class. Both depict the stark realities of institutional life. However, A Prophet also combines some fantasy sequences that kind of come out of nowhere (the ghost of Malik’s first victim keeps popping up in his cell to “haunt” him — sometimes they’re just smoking together). I never knew that French prisons were so open: prisoners don’t wear uniforms, but casual clothes. They seem to be able to move around freely all the time, and they have TVs, DVD players, etc. in their cells (or should I say “dorms”?). They even get “furloughs”, which are basically a day out for good behaviour. In fact, Malik’s furloughs are an important plot device in the film. I can’t say that I was able to completely follow the prison/criminal politics being played. Again, it’s confusing when the characters speak very brusquely and mumbly (thank God for subtitles). Hopefully I was able to get the gist (though I missed the “recap” scenes that mainstream movies like to employ). In the end, I was quite interested throughout, but I still wasn’t over-the-moon on this film. (3.5 out of 5)

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