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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    ‘A Prophet’ worth following

    Despite its large aspirations, “”Un Prophète”” is really a humble film. There are no large-scale shootouts, no enormous production value and no exotic locales. The moral of the story is time-honored, and the acting is understated. Compared to Mafioso classics like “”The Godfather”” and “”Goodfellas,”” “”Un Prophète”” seems reserved and simple.

    It also happens to be on par with both of those films.

    “”Un Prophète”” is unlike any previous Mafioso film. It focuses on the rise of one man within a sect of the Corsican mob. The twist is that the man is a French-Arab prisoner named Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim) who has no desire to enter the Mafia. Forced into the role of assassin by the Mafia’s leader, Malik coyly rises through the ranks over the course of his prison sentence.

    Set almost entirely in a French prison, the film does so much with a paper-thin plot. One man’s ascension through the ranks is not cutting-edge material, but director Jacques Audiard squeezes limitless tension from powerful acting and a foreboding atmosphere.

    The confinements of the prison setting give Audiard a lot to work with in terms of pacing and mood. He alternates between slick montages and looming set pieces, presenting prison life as a perverse routine that caroms across the fibers of time with unscheduled alterations. The result is a film of epic scope, presented in a deeply personal manner.

    Rahim’s performance as Malik is the cornerstone of the film. Thrust into a situation far beyond his comprehension, Malik has no business with the Corsicans. Uncomfortable being their lapdog, Malik manipulates the entire prison through his race relations and unforeseen guile. Rahim’s performance is mesmerizing, as his chameleonic transformation carries so much dramatic inertia that it becomes nearly incomparable.

    Malik’s trajectory is horrifying, riveting and satisfying. As a character, Malik is tremendously likable. His desires are genuine and his morality resonates as sympathetic and paradigmatic of a prisoner. Malik is not a saint, but his initial acts of violence are not out of evil. The complexity of his character’s actions defines the film’s rich source of heart.

    Malik’s nearly prophetic abilities lend the film its title. He speaks to the dead and suffers bizarre night terrors. The prophetic angle is unabashedly creative and occasionally heightens the film’s brooding morality. Malik grows as both a disturbed and enlightened character, capable of performing extreme brutalities and magnanimous acts. The prophecies are sometimes pretentious, with the sole purpose of adding artistic flourishes to the film.

    It almost felt as though Audiard was injecting the film with unnecessary artistic angles to escape the drab prison setting. These moments felt disingenuous, as the film’s rote setting does nothing to detract from the audience’s enjoyment or the film’s poignancy.

    These are minor quibbles with a major film. A lot of people are going to miss this one because it’s foreign and in art houses. Do not be one of those people. This is a crime film of the highest order — one that achieves greatness through expert storytelling and remarkable acting.

    (In French, Arabic and Italian with English subtitles)

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