A Prophet (18)

Directed by Jacques Audiard
Written by Thomas Bidegain, Jacques Audiard
Screening at FACT from 22 January 2010

Reviewed by Colin Serjent

This is a top notch prison drama set in present-day France.

The central character Malik El Djebena, impressively played by Tahar Rahim, is incarcerated for six years for a crime which is not revealed.

Born in France to Arab parents, he catches the attention of an elderly Corsican gangster, Cesar Luciana (Niels Aresstrup) who has a powerful hold on proceedings in the jail, with the prison guards at his beck and call.

He offers him protection form the other inmates if he can kill another Arab prisoner, Reyeb, who is set to testify against Luciania in a forthcoming trial.

Djebena performs the deadly deed - he has no choice - if not he would have been slain himself - but is constantly haunted by the presence of the dead man in his cell.

The scene where he is killed by a razor hidden in the mouth of Djebena is particularly gruesome in a film liberally adorned with violence.

The bond between Luciana and Djebena grows ever stronger, with the Corsican giving him more control of his business affairs, for example trafficking large consignments of hashish, both inside and outside the prison - Djebena is allowed to leave the confines of jail one day a week to help him acclimatise to normal life. Inevitably it was Luciania who arranged this with the prison authorities.

But this special privilege given to Djebena backfires on the gangmaster with deadly effects.

The once shy and reticent Djebena grows ever more confident in his dealings with the crooked allies of Luciania on his days away from the prison, unbeknown to his mentor.

The final scene where Luciania's stranglehold of power and authority is wrested away from him and transferred to Djebena is a potent piece of cinema. The king is dead, long live the king.

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