Sunday, January 30, 2011

UN PROPHETE (Jaques Audiard, 2009, France)

A young man’s life is written in scars, split between two racial identities: a journey of self-discovery between these warring factions but never divided against himself. Director Jacques Audiard’s terminal crime thriller is set almost entirely within the confines of concrete and barbed wire, but exposes the raw nerve of criminality whose fortune is mined like a vein of gold from the bedrock of society.

Malik is sentenced to six tough years in State Prison for assaulting a police officer. He must fend for himself in this jungle inhabited by voracious predators and insatiable raptors. He is equal parts French and Arab, a genetic admixture that isolates him from the protection of disparate gang lords. Soon he is given an ultimatum: murder an Arab snitch for the French mafia who hold majority control within the prison…or be murdered himself.

Malik is a boy who grows into a violent manhood while incarcerated, his claustrophobic world a mere shadow realm, a purgatory of six years that could lead him to a soulless eternity always at the mercy of others. But Malik begins to grow and understand, to reach his potential by never betraying his own morality, surviving but not selling himself so he can someday reach independence. He is creative and inventive, nurturing these gifts while haunted by the man he murdered; a ghost who never blames Malik or condemns him. As Malik gains the trust of the French mafia while ignoring their racial epitaphs, he plans his own future and the future of those who have coerced him into decisions not of his choosing.

Director Jacques Audiard never feels the need for forced exposition: we only know Malik through his incarceration as a young illiterate man with an allusion to a lengthy juvenile record, a the scars remain as mysterious as his past. Without resorting to flashback, a three dimensional portrait emerges through the confines of caricature. This is the anti SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION eschewing bloated morality and condescending cliché. Actor Tahar Rahim imbues Malik with a naiveté at conflict with ignorance, completing a compassionate portrayal of a man who never betrays himself, who does what he must to survive, and forges a friendship that transcends his mortal sentence. His performance is as sublime as a vision of white tail deer, jumping through the ether of neverwhere, following a path of salvation. The finale is as ambiguous as a dream…or the definition of justice.

Final Grade: (B+)

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