Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Prophet

A Prophet is the most ludicriously visceral experience I’ve had at a film since City Of God, and is the greatest crime film made since same. As A Prophet opens with handheld images of France seen through a prison van its like The French New Wave never ended. It’s the type of impressionistic vernacular based film the French used to excel at, and seeing this type of filmmaking again, alive and hungry is nothing short of a joy. And despite all its darkness there is something joyful about The Prophet, it’s the joy of an artist running on full steam, hitting all the marks with breathtaking precision, yes but it is also undeniably filled with the joy of watching someone crawl their way from nothing to something with swagger.

Just so we’re all aware, I know how much of a complete fucking philistine that makes me sound.

Because if there ever has been a gangster movie so utterly brutal, harsh and deglamorized as A Prophet, it doesn’t immediately spring to mind (I haven’t seen Gomorrah yet, but have it on the table next to me). The prisoner's in A Prophet make the squalor of City Of God look like the opulence of the Corleones. And yet I can’t help but feel that the undeniable charge the movie gave me was not entirely accidental. Audiard is a canny filmmaker he knows what he’s doing.

The film has classic gangster movie structure and despite its small scale, has a vividness of character and surrounding that makes it almost Dickensian. Sent to prison at 19 Petty theft Malik ends up inhabiting the netherworld between groups. There’s a power struggle in the prison between the Coriscan gangsters who control the power structure and the Muslim prisoners who greatly out number them. Malik Arab but not Muslim ends up serving as a valuable cat’s paw for the Coriscan’s, forced to murder a key witness against them and becoming something of a pet for the Coriscan’s. But Malik has a resourcefulness and ingenuity not readily apparent, and he’s not content to be a pet for long.

Audriad knows how to charge his films with quite irony. When after completing an important errand for the Corsican crime boss who runs the prison, Malik is transferred from his terrible cell to a slightly less terrible cell. The film takes it in with long loving shots, the wonders of the mini fridge, TV bolted to the wall and concrete walls. DePalma never shot Tony Montona’s mansions with such opulent splendor. And its this juxtaposition between the meagerness of their surroundings and the ferocity of the battle over them that gives A Prophet its unique frission.

And ferocious this film is, A Prophet is an utterly brutal movie with some of the most startlingly graphic violence I’ve scene in a film. But its all anchored in very human terms, by two tremendous performances by Tahar Rahim as Malik and Niels Arstrup as the aging Coriscan Cesar. Though nothing like the friend or mentorship you normally find in these films, the two have very little affection for each other at least on the surface, without them the movie would not succeed. They are fully realized characters and thanks to their performances we understand them every moment they are on screen.

The film has some flaws, particularly some over arty dream sequences in which Malik is haunted by the man he assassinated to gain the Coriscan’s favor. Near the end these scenes get down right Lynchian and jar with the film’s gritty tone. But these are little more then speedbumps.

Filled with pulsing intensity, unforgettable characters, effortless authenticity and even a couple moments of quiet beauty A Prophet is an electrifying experience.


MrJeffery said...

Loved this. great performances & visuals.

Franco Macabro said...

I like reviews that use the word "electrifying" in them to describe the film, it makes me feel like Im in for something special. I will add it to the q!

Last time I used the word electrifying in a review, it was for the film Network.