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A Prophet (2009)

a prophet poster

A Prophet (Un Prophète) (2009) - A young Arab man is sent to a French prison where he becomes a mafia kingpin.

Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim) arrives in prison for attacking police officers. This will become his home for the next six years. Malik’s ­vulnerability immeditaley attracts the attention of César (Niels Arestrup), the Corsican mobster with the guards in his pocket and who rules the roost in this prison.

a prophet

Malik meeting César

César needs someone to kill a fellow prisoner, who is about to incriminate his ­associates on the outside by turning state’s ­witness. César naturally summons the bewildered Malik and informs him that he must kill Reyeb (Hichem Yacoubi), a Muslim witness, or be killed himself by César’s lieutenants. He can’t get out of this obligation; when he tries to, he is choked out with a plastic bag over his head. He will be given ­instruction on how to do the job, and protection from César’s crew for the rest of his term. With no choice, Malik carries out the crime and subsequently finds he rises through the ranks of the Mafia inside the jail.

Malik at the start - a nobody

Malik at the start – a nobody

The build up to killing Reyeb shows Malik learning how to hide a razor blade in his mouth. I loved moments like this, as sometimes in films we see people doing things like that with ease, like it’s a skill everyone has. Seeing Malik practice, and fail, and cut himself added so much realism to the story. When Malik finally murders Reyeb it is so riveting and stressful that it is a relief when the blood finally sprays. Then in a weird but effective move, as the film progresses we see Malik being haunted by visions of Reyeb. They even communicate with each other. Ultimately he is still not over the fact that he killed someone, and this indicates that he still has that vulnerability.

Hiding a razor blade

Hiding a razor blade

Over time, we see a change in Malik, from an innocent, little detainee to a confident boss. Malik listens closely to Cesar’s henchmen and eventually learns their Corsican language, thus becoming bilingual and moving deeper into Cesar’s circle. Although the rest of the crew still despise him and call him their ‘dirty arab‘. There are perks to being Cesar’s eyes and ears such as a television, DVD player, and a visit from a prostitute, but despite these comforts, Malik’s prison existence is still uncompromisingly bleak.

Seeing a ghost

Seeing a ghost

Malik earns a day pass, given for good behaviour in the French prison system, and is forced to hustle for Cesar outside of prison while doing a little multi-tasking hash dealing for himself. The jobs that Cesar has Malik doing on the outside tend to involve precarious situations but he has little choice but to do them.

Bit of fun on day release

Bit of fun on day release

However, Malik’s life outside of prison is presented as bright and exhilarating. When Malik takes a short business flight on a plane, his childish wonder is obvious and nice to see. Then watching him go through the scanners and get searched like we all do at airports is a heart breaking moment as he opens his mouth and sticks out his tongue. Prison mentality drilled into him and seeing him unnecessarily and instinctively doing this at the airport is such an emotional scene.

Airport search

In 2010, the film was a nominee for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 82nd Academy Awards. Whilst it didn’t triumph there, it won the Grand Prix at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. At the 63rd British Academy Film Awards, it won a BAFTA for Best Film Not in the English Language. It was nominated for 13 César Awards, tying it with three other films for the most nominations of any film in César history. It won 9 Cesars at the ceremony, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor. Suffice to say, it is a very well-loved film.

A Prophet is directed by Jacques Audiard who has earned rave reviews with his most recent film Rust and Bone. I haven’t seen that yet, but if it is anywhere near as well made as A Prophet then I look forward to it. He is certainly an excellent director and great story-teller. Unlike the Hollywood prison movies where everyone is either raped or built like a tank, our inmates here seem more normal. Just normal guys, not caricatures of people. The prison is a grim place but it just looked and felt gritty and real. A Prophet isn’t only one of the best prison movies I’ve ever seen, but easily one of the best movies full stop. Everything from the acting to the script is perfect. It has blood of course, and is a violent tale. Yet it has so much heart, and spirit, and Malik is someone I couldn’t help but root for. What an incredible performance and transition from a relative newcomer to films Tahar Rahim shows here. Do yourself a favour and check out A Prophet. Simply an incredible film, and one I can’t wait to see again.

9 stars

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42 thoughts on “A Prophet (2009)

  1. Nick Powell

    I absolutely love this movie. It’s a tad long, but easily forgivable given how high the quality is. I’m glad you liked it as well. It’s intense, haunting, and another reminder that you guys in Europe make better films than the States. So thanks lol

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    1. Tyson Carter Post author

      I didn’t notice the time, it flew by and I didn’t want it to end!! Europe does make some great films! UK not so much, but France & Spain are kicking our asses recently!! Cheers buddy :)

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  2. Abbi

    I loved this film so much. it was riveting. When I watched it my husband was playing computer games in the background and whining about subtitles (again) but he quickly got sucked in, put the laptop down and became glued to the screen. I really want to see Rust and Bone having missed it at the cinema.

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    1. Tyson Carter Post author

      Great to hear it Abbi! My wife walked in when he was about to meet and greet Reyed, she wasn’t amused and quickly left the room!

      Going to pick up Rust and Bone on blu ray for sure, it didnt really play much around us here but cant wait to see it. :)

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  3. Popcorn Nights

    Completely agree with you Tyson, this is an amazing film, and along with Biutiful it’s one of my favourite European films of recent years. It lost out to The Secrets In Their Eyes for the best foreign language film Oscar, which is also superb, and I think both are far superior to nearly all the films up for Best Picture that year (including the one that won). I haven’t seen Rust and Bone yet but I really recommend the film he made before this, The Beat That My Heart Skipped. Anyway…enjoyed reading!

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  4. claratsi

    I think this is available on lovefilm and netflix at the minute, I was in two minds, but now after reading and seeing your rating I will be watching it, Thanks Tyson for making my decision for me!

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  5. Kim @ Tranquil Dreams

    I’m totally intrigued by Rust and Bone, without knowing much about the plot. This one seems interesting enough, if I see it around, I’ll pick it up and give it a watch! :) Awesome review as always, Tyson!

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  6. Mark Walker

    I done a review on this myself a while back. It’s a great film but I didn’t really but the Prophet side to things. His ability to see the future could have been conpletely omitted and it wouldn’t have made a difference to the excellent prison drama that it is. If you liked this, you should check out the Spanish prison drama “Cell 211″. I have a review of that also when you find the time.

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    1. Tyson Carter Post author

      I’m sure I read it but I’ll be by to check out your thoughts, and for Cell 211, which I have heard good stuff about.

      I didn’t really think it was seeing into the future as such…….there was only one moment I recall of stuff like that and that was showing the routines of people in the yard. Or I missed it totally. Either way I loved it! Cheers Mark :)

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      1. Mark Walker

        Yeah, there is very few moments of him having prophetic visions but even include them at all? Let alone name the film after such? That’s my only gripe though. Other than that it was solid stuff.

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        1. Tyson Carter Post author

          I must of missed that totally, I just saw him chatting as that was literally a ghost he couldnt put to bed. I dont recall them seeing the future though. :)

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  7. themovieuniverse

    It’s been a couple of years since I last saw A Prophet but I can remember really liking it. I thought it was a fantastic, gritty story and I really enjoyed how it was handled (the killing scene with the razor blade is one scene that sticks in the memory). I liked the ending, I felt like it was left out there with a little bit of ambiguity so people will perhaps have different readings of it.

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    1. Tyson Carter Post author

      Yeah, the razor blade scene, with the build up and practice before the act, powerful stuff. The ending was ambiguous, but I felt it was nicely done and there was a little hope for Malik. Thanks for stopping by :)

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