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Movie Critic Review: A Prophet (2009)

"..that’s what cinema is all about – it produces monumental figures, icons, male or female, people who are emblematic of their time, who are in their time and who define their time.” French filmmaker Jacques Audiard

Tahar Rahim

Was it a bit over for the producers of this movie to compare it to "The Godfather" and therefore hint at a fleeting resemblance between the Corsican gang leader Cezar and Don Corlioni and, by extrapolation, between Tahar Rahim (as Malik) and Al Pacino (as Michael.)! Chances are!  
The screenplay for "A Prophet" was inspired by a visit Mr. Audiard made to a video club in a French prison. It was then written by Audiard (himself a screen writer) and other prominent writers such as Abdel Raouf Dafri (winner of French Cezar Award.). It was based on the shocking realization of the conditions in the French prisons.Therefore it can be viewed as a cinematic critique of real life situations as much as it is an iconization of marginalized people in a capitalist society. The film "A Prophet" is thought to have helped escalate the debate on full-face veil worn by some Muslim women in France; a debate which culminated in a law prohibiting and punishing women or children who wear a Burka. But, it also brought the whole question of minorities and their democratic rights to the forefront. Director Jacques Audiard was quoted as saying about the impact of his film on this social issue: “That’s my job, at its very essence. For me, that’s what cinema is all about – it produces monumental figures, icons, male or female, people who are emblematic of their time, who are in their time and who define their time.”

Malik el Djebena, a young Arab who is condemned to six years in a French prison, cannot read or write, but soon figures out the politics of the prison. Though Malik is only 19-years-old, the leader of the Corsican gang who rules the prison corners him and gives him certain 'missions' to carry out. He quickly gains the confidence of the gang leader, as these assignments begin to toughen him up. But Malik soon develops some plans of his own. It appears very familiar, this plot for the film! But to venture into making it, I would do the same: equate it to the "God Father""A Prophet" is deemed by some critics as to contain one of the finest assassination scenes ever committed to celluloid.

Audriard has been removed from the auteur list for some critics because they thought this movie of his was not an art movie although Audriard has authored, not only by contributing to the script but also by the many cinematic instances in the movie that prove him a true creator. Audriard has bet on cinematic tools of style and good editing to circumvent three huge problems with this project. These were:
  • A too familiar plot.
  • A complex of ethnicities and cultures i.e. languages.
  •  A lengthy run time (155 min.)
The first problem seems resolvable as there are no recent prison dramas of a good cinematic caliber. The second problem of complexities of the social mesh is a problem that is at the bottom of ِِِAudriard's project for creating.. "icons and images for people who don't have images in movies, like the Arabs in France," though he also had stated that the film "has nothing to do with his vision of society," and is a work of fiction. Language, therefore, should not be a worry. The third problem of the run time is obviously dependent on how one proceeds with his cinematic tools and specifically with modernist ways of attaining novelistic density in filmic characterization and using them with good editing that includes creating surreal images! Artistic manipulation of the settings and atmospheres for scenes may also play an important role in creating a well paced rendering of the script and may offset the undue length of the movie. 

Niels Arestrup (left), Jacques Audiard(cntr) and Rahim @ Cannes 2010

Note On Tahar Rahim

Tahar Rahim was born in France. His family was originally from Oran, Algeria. He studied Drama at Laboratoire de l'Acteur. Besides this movie A Prophet  he starred in Freeman 2011, Our ChildrenBlack Gold 2011. He had a role in Kevin Macdonald's 2011 movie "The Eagle." His latest movie Grand Central was debuted at Cannes 2013. It is directed by 33 years old Rebecca Zlotowski. He also played a role in "The Past" the latest movie from the famed Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi.

Prizes & Winnings

"A Prophet" won the Grand Prix at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival. At the 53rd London Film Festival, it won the Best Film Award. It won the Prix Louis Delluc 2009. It was nominated for the 82nd Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film. It also won the César Award (France's Oscar.)

Critics Say Their Words

"A Prophet" was a hit. It has been largely acclaimed by critics and commercially successful.

"As epic as The Godfather."- Kevin Maher, The London Times.
"Like The Godfather, which it regularly recalls, A Prophet serves up crime as a metaphor for life and power…" -John Anderson, Wall Street Journal
"The film's hero is a cousin to the protagonists of The Godfather or Scarface, but the movie writes its gangland saga without phony mob glamour." - Robert Horton, Everett Herald
"If Malik doesn't remind you of Al Pachino's Michael Corleone on his journey from innocence to corruption in The Godfather saga, well…he should. A Prophet is similarly, startlingly momentous." -Stephen Rea, The Philadelphia Inquirer
"A Prophet is a new crime classic." -Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
"4 out of 4 stars." -Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
"A stylish revelation, recalling The Godfather…" -James Verniere, The Boston Herald
"A Prophet is Godfather good…" -Karen Durbin, Elle
"A Godfather saga set behind bars, Audiard's riveting tale of a young Arab's rise within the inmate hierarchy is as compelling as filmmaking gets." -Paul Ennis, Now Magazine.

UnProphete  A Prophet France/Italy 2009. 155 min.

French/Arabic/Corsican with English subtitles.
Rating R (18+) Genre: Prison or Crime Drama.
Written by: Jacques Autiard, Thomas Bidegain, Abdel Raouf Darfi, Nicola Peufaillit.
Directed by: Jacques Autiard (also made The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Read My Lips)
Cast: Tahar Rahim, Neils Arestrup, Abdel Bencherif, Hichem Yakoubi, Reda Katib.
Music composed by: Alexandre Desplat (Notable song: Corner Of My Room by Turner Cody down there!)

The Following is for french readers:


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