Les nerks

Film of the year“, says one newspaper’s quote at the top of the praise-plastered posters for Un Prophete, or A Prophet. It’s released next Friday, January 22. Can it be the film of the year yet? I suspect the critic was hailing the film as such after seeing it at a festival last year. Certainly, Sight & Sound‘s collected critics named Un Prophete as their film of 2009. For those of us who don’t attend festivals, however, it’s going to have to be film of 2010, and it has a long way to go. Mind you, I’ve seen it now, and it is astonishingly good. Film of the month, for sure.

It’s the French prison movie. Directed by Jacques Audiard, who made The Beat That My Heart Skipped, it is not strictly a prison movie, rather a tale of manhood (or “self-education” to use Audiard’s words), forced upon a young offender who spends six years in jail. It is also a film about ethnic tribalism, in this case, to reduce it down: Arabs versus Corsicans, the main groups in this French clink, with the Muslim contingent growing all the time. Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim) hopes to keep himself to himself and his nose clean, but is sucked into the prison’s subculture of racial violence in a truly shocking first-act incident that will cause even the most immunised to wince and instinctively cover their eyes when it happens. Needless to say, we see an immediate change in Malik and over the six years that unfold over the film’s two and a half hours, it’s not just facial hair that marks out the passage of time and the maturing of a young man. Audiard is fascinated by the rituals and routines of prison life, and the way that men are when left with other men; he’s also adept at running a workable thriller element into a more meditative, even impressionistic whole – when Malik eventually earns 12-hour passes for good behaviour, you’ll be amazed at what he gets up to!

All hail Niels Aristrup, who was in The Beat That My Heart Skipped, and plays the banged-up Corsican Godfather Cesar Luciani with the perfect blend of Genial Harry Grout and Frank Booth (although he looks disconcertingly like Anthony Worrall Thompson). The actual cons who take on roles as extras in the film – and the seemingly authentic setting – root the occasional esoteric touches and fantasy elements in cold, hard reality. There are rare moments of beauty in this prison, as there were in Steve McQueen’s Maze in Hunger (both, interestingly, have snowflakes coming down outside a barred window). If you can handle the occasional bursts of unyielding violence and the inevitable atmosphere of threat and menace, Un Prophete is a film that’s really worth seeing. You will learn certain techniques of defence and offence that you didn’t know you’d ever need. Keep that [removed due to accidental spoiler].

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12 thoughts on “Les nerks

  1. I watched Un Prophete just yesterday and yes, its awesome – probably the best film I've seen since There Will Be Blood. The Beat That My Heart Skipped was also great but when I suggest it to others and say a word or two about the plot they just look at me all weird.Also I visited The Tempting Tattie over new years in honour of the C&H podcast but forgot to ask for a Richard Herring with no Andrew Collins :/

  2. Hey Andrew, hope you are well – slightly off topic, but I've been scouring the interweb for the name of the hip hop track you played as a personal selection, during your siiting in with Richard Herring on the Adam and Joe BBC 6 Mucic Show – it was a real joy.Best Wishes,Matthew Phillips

  3. Great review, I can't wait to see it. Sounds amazing from what I've heard/read about it so far.I need to watch a good film, my last few trips to the cinema have been terrible. I thought Avatar was extremely clunky and cliched, The Box and 2012 were utterly dreadful.I was invited by friends to watch Sherlock Holmes, but decided against it, just in case it put me off the cinema for life…In other news, I'm now following you on Twitter, Andrew. I know it's probably 18 months too late, but I've set up an account (@bigbeakb). I feel slightly overwhelmed, like a kid on his first day at 'big school'.

  4. There are times when I'm really grateful I live in Islington. I've got an indy/arthouse and a multiplex within about 200 yards of each other. A few years back I went to see Miyazaki's wonderful Howl's Moving Castle at both venues on consecutive days – one in Japanese with subtitles and the other in the English dub!I went to see Sex and Drugs and Rock-and-Roll on Monday, which was OK apart from Serkis who was amazing. They're due to be showing A Prophet in a week or so I think; I wasn't planning on seeing it, but I will make the effort now.– David

  5. This looks pretty damn unmissable. Cheers for the review and it made me look up the word 'esoteric'. Heard that word so many times, never knew what it meant.

  6. Matthew, I think the hip hop track you're referring to could have been 'My Philosophy' by BDP. Certainly remember Andrew playing that one when they filled in for Adam & Joe.

  7. I just saw it myself and couldn't agree more. Quite a brilliant little film.But please remove your last sentence – too much detail!I had to stop Kermode's review on Friday because he immediately began giving away plot detail that it was entirely unnecessary to leak. Context is one thing, but talking about the criminal methodology used in the film is just spoiling things for fresh eyes.I think I'm still stinging from Grace Dent's attack on we Spoiler Wusses in the Guardian. She was so, so wrong.

  8. Saw this last night and it was indeed every bit as good as you said it was. Thank you. (The trade-off means that I won't be seeing The Boys Are Back. I'm fairly sure I come off better in that deal.)And, in retrospect, yes, knowing those couple of things that I knew before I went in did detract a little from my enjoyment. But only a little. I have pretty much come to expect that unless I see a film at a preview (or I take up a job as a critic) I am rarely going to be able to see a film without knowing something about it in advance. But I do agree that less is very often more.– David

  9. Swineshead,I read that piece by Grace Dent in The Guardian and am in complete agreement with you. A spoiler does spoil the film/programme by definition of the word! I haven't disagreed with an article in The Guardian as much as I did with that one in a long time- I'm glad to hear you were just as outraged!

  10. Aidan, feel free to sign up to my gang – Team Uptight – any time!I should add that AC is one of the better reviewers for not leaking details. Whereas, with Kermode, I'm forced to have a finger hovering over the pause button.

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