Brandon's Sundance Review: Jacques Audiard's Un Prophete
by Brandon Lee Tenney
January 29, 2010
Un Prophete (or A Prophet in English) is on another plane of existence. Director Jacques Audiard's latest film since 2005's The Beat That My Heart Skipped is, simply, a tour de force. From its performances, including first-time actor Tahar Rahim's brilliant portrayal of Malik El Djebena, to its direction, to its writing, the film is wholly unique. In short, Un Prophete is a prison drama centering around new-inmate Malik and his six-year incarceration. But really, it's so much more. The film unfolds like a novel, not bound by any structure beyond Malik's experiences. The film is at its most powerful after it's ended and you're able to reflect on what's taken place over the course of those two and a half hours. Early in the film, a character says, "The idea of this place is to come out a little smarter." It's a dual-purpose thesis, meant both for Malik, to whom it's spoken, and the film's audience. And Un Prophete is a riveting triumph.
Jacques Audiard may be more akin to an acrobat than a director, for his ability to contort and balance so much on screen so thoroughly and comfortably is nothing short of a main-ring attraction. Three separate gangs are fully realized on screen, their members flesh and blood beyond ideals and loyalties; Malik's education, both within the prison and without is a movie in and of itself; and Malik's amply rendered internal turmoil is brought to both figurative and realistic life. Most impressive, however, is that Malik is not a hero in the Western sense of the word. He's not even an anti-hero. He's a prisoner, a criminal since his early teens, and a man we watch brutally murder another inmate. He's a drug dealer, a gang banger, and a generally unsavory guy. But while on screen, I found myself silently rooting for him. Enthralled because he's just so damned interesting. This is a testament to some truly outstanding writing.
At its core, the film is an underdog story about the rise of a kingpin. A perverse, subverted rags-to-riches fairy tale. It explores family, morality, survival, humanity, grief, happiness, and the subconscious so completely that each theme could be its own film. Un Prophete is captivating. It's an uncompromising vision. It's cerebral, visceral, and one to be studied. Most of all, the film is incomparable to its peers, and one not to be missed.
Brandon's Sundance Rating: 9 out of 10