I had no idea what to expect from The Prophet (Un prophete) – I only knew that the French film that had received lots of praise, including a Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination.
“Oh no” I thought as I bit into my choc top and the blood splattered on screen, “It’s going to be two hours of grim prison violence”. Fortunately, Jacques Audiard’s film is more than that – it’s a fascinating study into the ability of an entrepreneurial spirit to find opportunities everywhere, even inside prison walls.
Malik el Djebena (Tahar Rahim) is a 19-year old of North African origin who is chosen by Cesar Luciani (Niels Arestrup), the head honcho of the prison’s reigning Corsican mafia, to kill a another prisoner who is going to testifying against the mob. In fear of retribution, Malik commits the murder, and as a result is rewarded with Luciani’s favour by becoming a lackey for the Corsican gang with special privileges.
While in prison the illiterate Malik not only learns to read French but secretly teaches himself Corsican to learn about the workings of the prison mafia. When Luciani arranges periods of leave for Malik so that he can conduct various criminal missions and meetings, Malik takes the opportunity to do some work on the side by setting up a drugs business with his friend on the outside.
While pretty much all of the characters are unsavoury criminals, in Malik Audiard has given us an anti-hero who I found myself admiring for his ambition, mental toughness and street-smart intelligence. That, combined with the realistic performances and intriguing relationships between the main characters, makes The Prophet a compelling film.