Director: Jacques Audiard / Script: Thomas Bidegain & J. Audiard / Editing: Juliette Welfling / DP: Stephane Fontaine / Music: Alexandre Desplat
Cast: Tahar Rahim / Niels Arestrup / Reda Kateb / Leila Bekhti
le Porridge Francais…
Something special today.
It’s French. Violent. Relevant. Wise. Knowing.
It’s… A Prophet.
Directed by the mercurial Jacques Audiard, it stars Tahar Rahim as Djebena – a French-Arab. We follow him as he enters prison as a naive nineteen year-old and rises to win the trust of Niels Arestrup’s Cesar, a Corsican gangster who’s in for a long stretch. This bond is sealed and protection duly bestowed, once Cesar coerces Djebena to murder a rival. From this moment, Djebena’s place is assured – and doomed.
At the outset, Cesar and his cohorts are running the prison wing so completely, that bribed guards turn a blind eye to the smuggling-in of contraband, including a mobile phone; key to keeping a grip on affairs beyond the walls and razor wire.
Things start to unravel in slow-motion however, once the French Government begins repatriating lower-risk Corsican prisoners back to, err, Corsica. This leaves fewer allies for Cesar and a shift in the balance of power, accelerated by an influx of Muslim inmates: a change that leads a now-seasoned Djebena to switch allegiances: a move that might not work out in his favour…
The end result, is one of the best prison dramas I’ve ever seen. Watching Arestrup, is to utterly believe the menacing presence before us, so convincing is his take on both character and writing. It’s to Rahim’s credit then, that he more than holds his own against such a controlling force of nature.
The sense of alienation is total, thanks to Audiard having cast many former prisoners in a reach for realism. The few locations are austere, bleak, hopeless with a pervasive sense of institutional oppression and indifference that’s intelligently handled.
Films like this take us far from traditional prison movies such as Escape From Alcatraz or The Green Mile. In my own, limited experience, I suppose something like Midnight Express or Papillon are getting us closer to the nitty-gritty, but they remain star vehicles in-thrall to their leads. It takes a nimble, smaller production to throw light on a more honest slice of life.
It’s for that reason, that I suggest watching this as a double-bill with Starred-Up, another recent British entry to this genre, starring Jack O’Connell.
What’s your thing? How do you do it? What are you? A prophet or something?