A Prophet

I try to write something after going to the cinema. I caught A Prophet Tuesday last week but have had some trouble writing an opinion. Let me summarise: It’s outstanding.

The film revolves around Malik. He is sent to prison for assaulting police-officers. From the start, Malik (Tehar Rahim) is alone and humiliated his tough guy act and attempts to gain revenge fail miserably. He’ll need protection if he’s to survive. This comes in the form of a Corsican gang who force him to murder someone. From this point on, he has to negotiate the prison’s power-structure and gangs even when on the outside.

A film should enthral us visually and inform us of a world we would never see during the course of our everyday lives. A Prophet did both. It gave detailed, granular look of the make-up of prisons, the routines and behaviour of prisoners. It is visually convincing and the contrast with the outside freedoms are brilliantly drawn out. It also gave an insight into the changes of French society.

The violence is just as strong. Equally appalling and nerve wracking, killing is hard, humiliating and bloody work. People don’t give in unless caught off-guard. Violence also gives later scenarios a thriller covering up the stretch in audience credulity.

Viewers share Malik’s bewilderment and inexperience and his education. The film does well to give us his impressions of events such as attacks through the use of clever editing and visual techniques such as blurring the film, narrowing the field of vision, removing sound etc.

Tehar in the French Film A Prophet
Navigating Hell


performance as Malik grows on us as an audience. He wins you with his struggle which blossoms into responsibility, sheer gutsiness and a Mesrine-like charm and cockiness when situations call for it. We’re glad he can commit the basest of acts because we come to care about him. It’s his non-conformity – an individualist from the first, not a devout Muslim and able to mix with other cultures and learn things for his own benefit that make him a grey zone we can project our feelings onto.

The other performance to mention is that of Niels Arestrup as the leader of the Corsicans. I previously saw him as the father in The Beat That My Heart Skipped. He cuts another corrupt and brutish father figure making him a smouldering threat as the Corsican gang leader in prison who knows his time is winding down. His final diminished pose is powerful.

As I left the cinema I was glad I had watched it and felt that this would be on the list of top ten film when the year comes to a close. My recommendation is to go and see it while it is still in cinemas because this is one of the great films of the year and will probably get the best Foreign Language BAFTA and Oscar.

2 thoughts on “A Prophet

  1. Ah, great review. Totally agree. It’s not short of violence but you couldn’t really expect otherwise. I started off thinking I wouldn’t like this and then was totally won over.
    Lynn 😀

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