Saturday, October 25, 2014

3+1 Short Paragraphs: Un Prophete

2009, Jacques Audiard -- Netflix

I cannot remember why, but this movie has been on the edge of my radar for quite some time. I vaguely recall a positive review by Roger Ebert. Also on the periphery of my mind is a scene of a man looking out a small window, perched high in the room considering his confinement and the world beyond.

Un Prophète is a French prison drama, about a young Arab boy (his racial origins & France's racial tensions play a part in the movie) sent to prison, straight from streets that have not treated him well. His face is stitched up, his arms and back are criss-crossed with scars and his clothes are only worth being tossed in a bin. We never really know what crime he committed or what happened to him before, because it doesn't matter. This prison is where Malik El Djebena becomes someone.

Malik goes into the prison young and afraid. He is not like the stereotypical strutting street thug ready to prove himself a criminal to his peers. He is merely there because life has led him there. And when the local prison Don, a Corsican named Luciani, coerces him into murdering another prisoner, Malik is torn and forever changed. He becomes the errand boy, the guy who makes the instant coffees, the guy who delivers messages, all for the Corsican criminals who run the prison with the obvious and unchallenged help of the prison officials themselves. And with this exposure, Malik doesn't leave the prison young, or afraid.

What was fascinating about how all of this was played out was that we are never really sure if Malik is meant for this life. He is not a bad man, but nor is he a man to stand up against evil. There is some commentary about how prison makes criminals of its residents, but this movie is more about Malik finding a place, a family and a direction for himself. The prophetic allusions are  somewhat unbalanced, as he has the only meaningful conversations of the movie with absent characters, who might represent his own more intelligent personality emerging. It is never clear and really, it does not play a big part. That he leaves the prison, leader not follower, ascribes some mystical overtones to what led him there, but really, the movie is more a personal evolution not a grand one.