A Prophet

(Un prophète)
(France, 2009, 155 mins, 35mm)
In French
CAST Tahar Rahim, Nils Arestrup
Classification: Unclassified, Membership Required
Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Canadian art house distributor Mongrel Media.


A prison somewhere in the boondocks outside Paris: home for 19-year-old French-North African Malik (Tahar Rahim) for the next six years. He’s soon singled out by Corsican crime boss Cesar Luciani (snowy haired Nils Arestrup) as their best shot at assassinating another Arab prisoner, a stool pigeon who appears to take a fancy to the young man.

Malik doesn’t want to comply, but soon discovers that Cesar’s power extends right across the prison, inmates, guards and all. The murder is a bloody fiasco, but Cesar ensures that he gets off with no questions asked, and there’s a job in it for him too. Cesar’s gang treat him like a lackey, but at least he’s a lackey with connections and the privilege to move around the prison with relative ease.

With time he earns the kingpin’s respect, if not entirely his trust. That’s a mixed blessing too — Luciani has high expectations, but he remains watchful for any sign of too much initiative. Malik earns day-release rights, and soon he’s trafficking drugs for the Corsican’s allies, making good money, and risking his neck on a regular basis.

The confines of the prison provide Jacques Audiard (Read My Lips; The Beat My Heart Skipped) with a handy social microcosm: we see the way the institution has been rigged and corrupted by money, violence and power, the endemic racism of the place, and how Malik is forced to play the game or perish.

Not only does he play, he wins. In the self-improvement stakes he would be a model prisoner — he even learns Corsican — if it weren’t for all the dead bodies he leaves in his wake.

"If Malik doesn’t remind you of Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone on his journey from innocence to corruption in The Godfather saga, well ... he should. A Prophet is similarly, startlingly momentous."—Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer

"It’s a highly original film made in a familiar context, and an exciting moviegoing experience you shouldn’t miss."—Andrew O’Hehir, Salon

"A Prophet is the kind of film that makes you remember why going to the movies can be a thrilling experience."—Marjorie Baumgarten, Austin Chronicle