I am not familiar with director Jacques Audiard’s work. What I now know though is that he is a very skilled operator indeed as this gripping French thriller demonstrates. Nominated for the Oscar for Best Movie in a Foreign Language it would appear it’s in a straight shoot out with Michael Haneke’s, The White Ribbon.
Both movies are terrific and both deal with the evil in man in very different ways. In The White Ribbon it’s all about the gestation of fascism in a typically (for Haneke) underplayed, subtle and metaphorical way.
Here, Audiard goes straight for the jugular (and for those that have seen the movie they will know that this comment is pretty literal).
A Prophet (to give it its English moniker) is as graphic a prison drama as you’ll see. It focuses mainly on the relationship between a misfitting North African Muslim boy who is flung into an unnamed French gaol for mudering a copper and an aging Corsican mafia leader (played convincingly by Neils Arestrup – whom British viewers could easily mistake for celebrity chef Anthony Worral Thompson)
Separated at Birth? Neils Arestrup.
Separated at birth? Anthony Worrall Thompson
As the movie develops, the young Muslim, Malik (played with convincing menace by Tahar Rahim), becomes an increasingly trusted aide of the old master. But the relationship is built on hatred and bitter distrust.
Malik, gradually gains the upper hand as he increasingly frequently gains passes out into the free world to carry out a variety of unsavoury tasks for gangland boss Arestrup, whilst fitting in a bit of empire building himself.
The movie is visceral, at times shockingly so, but never short of engaging and we build a close bond with Malik as his story unfolds.
An interesting device in the movie is to include a series of ghostlike appearances of one of Malik’s early ‘victims’; the ghost giving Malik premonitions that contribute to his ultimate nomenclature as “The Prophet.”
These have clearly been the inspiration for this brilliant government commercial…
So. Who will prevail? The Cannes Grand Prix winning A Prophet or the more cerebral and understated White Ribbon?
Well, my vote goes to Michael Haneke because, despite both movies being truly excellent, Haneke’s style edges it for me.
A great category in a relatively weak Oscars year.