Jacques Audiard’s Un Prophete has this bluster about it that’s not too dissimilar from his earlier work The Beat That My Heart Skipped. Both films have a protagonist that’s sorta gung-ho and have a bit of that attitude in them. Both have this sorta issue with a father figure and both reach some sort of resolution in their story. I thought that in TBTMHS, there was a little bit too much style in the film itself, too cool as it were. The awesome music used a little too well in conjunction so much so that it slightly distracted from the brilliant story. Un Prophete though, feels really polished as a film, with hardly anything feeling too misplaced but I didn’t like the choice in music (just the pop songs not the score itself, that’s pretty good) haha. That’s a personal quibble because the film is stunning and you really get a feel for the characters and the story, which takes conventions in gangster and prison films but casts them in a new light.

Un Prophete stars Tahar Rahim as Malik, a young delinquent sent to jail for 6 years. He’s illiterate and has never had any vocational training or anything of the sort. He’s a scared little bitch, just turned 19 and friendless, which in prison terms doesn’t bode well. Trouble doesn’t take long to find him when the Corsican gang boss running the joint decides to use him to assassinate a temporary Arab inmate. Since Malik is an Arab, speaks Arabic and the target has also taken a liking to him, he’s the perfect choice. But our boy’s shitting in his pants and tries to run to the warden to no avail. The rock and a hard place concept is brought to complete cognition when he gets beat up and told to kill or be killed. Of course, he manages and somehow, the deceased target becomes like this mystical figure/imaginary friend for Malik, who then rises from being no one to someone.

From there, we see how Malik decides to make a better person of himself, getting educated in the prison school, learning things like economics and making friends. Other than being the lapdog for the Corsican boss, he also befriends Ryad, who becomes his best mate/man on the outside. Jordi the Gypsy is another friend, a drug dealer within the prison walls with connections outside it. Then there’s also the other Arabs and muslims in another prison block who aren’t best friends with the Corsicans. Malik somehow manages to manoeuvre himself around the Corsicans and their leader Cesar, who is sorta like Malik’s boss/guardian/mentor at the start of the film, and the Arabs and his own interests.

Malik isn’t content to just fetch the papers and make coffee. No, he wants himself a piece of the pie and much as he appreciates what Cesar has done for him, he cannot forget the shit that he got from him. He also covets the positional power that Cesar holds. In a sense the relationship between Cesar and Malik is particularly interesting because there’s always this sort of unspoken bond between the two that’s always on a knife edge. In another world, they coulda been real father and son. Yet, in prison, it becomes something like master pupil, pupil surpassing master concept.

I really enjoyed how it managed to veer away from being some sorta commentary on current affairs whether religious or racial. It was really just a goddamn good film about a guy making something of himself in some uncertain and difficult circumstances. It does work wonderfully as a prison film with a very authentic feel as well as a gangster film that’s not a regular one. It’s a story about grabbing your chances by the balls, which um, Malik does quite literally near the start.

Un Prophete won the Grand Prix at Cannes 2009 and several Cesars as well as just being all round dope by my vote.

I liked this frame where Malik is being taken to jail and he looks out the prison van and there’s the French flag and some modern buildings or people going about their daily.

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