Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Prophet: Grade B

B

A Prophet (2009)

Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup, Hichem Yacoubi; Co-writer and Director Jacques Audiard. (French and Arabic; subtitled).

A young North African Arab (Rahim) is sent to prison in Marseilles, for what I can’t remember, and begins his prison career as a na├»ve innocent, subject to the brutality and racial gangs that are endemic. The Islamic gang is ineffective and unable to protect him but an older Corsican gangster (Arestrup) admires his strength and independence and offers Corsican protection if he will kill a troublesome foe in the prison. The youth agrees and becomes a sort of mascot to the Corsican gang.

As a model prisoner he is eventually let out for a day a week on a work-release parole, during which time he accomplishes various gangster tasks for the Corsican mobster, including drug trafficking and murder, but always, it seems, working first and foremost for himself. After nearly 2.5 hours (!), he has become the “Godfather” of all the gangs in Marseilles by the time his prison term is up.

The plot is a little too complicated at times to keep the players and their mutual grievances straight, but that’s not too important because they are just gangsters acting gangstery anyway. This is not Coppola’s Godfather as blurbed on the video box, where characters were well developed. These are not. But the acting is terrific by these non-professional actors and the viewer gets a palpable sense of gritty, violent, amoral prison society, an exotic and alien society that exists invisibly within our mainstream one. For all that, it is a worthwhile film.

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