AWFJ Women On Film – “A Prophet” – Susan Granger reviews

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Winning the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival and securing an Oscar nomination as Best Foreign Film, this gritty French crime thriller revolves around Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim), an illiterate, non-religious Arab street orphan who is sentenced to serve six years in prison in an area near Marseilles after scuffling with police.

Far younger and more fragile than other 19 year-olds, he’s immediately cornered by menacing Cesar Luciani (Niels Arestrup), the aging boss of the Corsican gang, and ordered to assassinate a Muslim named Reyeb (Hichem Yacourbi). (The Corsicans are referred to as political prisoners, a tradition going back to an insurrection on the island of Corsica, where Napoleon was born.) Forced into subservience, Malik’s first clumsy killing is graphically gory – with blood surging from the victim’s neck. After that, other Arab inmates refer to him a craven Corsican while the Corsicans deride him as “a dirty Arab.” Yet Malik gains acceptance as Cesar’s servant, exacting revenge on perceived enemies and engaging in lucrative drug dealing on his occasional prison furloughs.

Listed among the worst by the Council of Europe, French prisons are notoriously overcrowded and understaffed, resulting in a high suicide rate – which is what intrigued writer/director Jacques Audiard (“The Beat that My Heart Skipped”) and his screenwriting partner Thomas Bidegain, who capture the deep cultural divisions within contemporary French society. According to the 2010 C.E.A. World Factbook, while only 10% of France is Muslim, it’s estimated that Muslims comprise about two-thirds of the prison population. Stephane Fontaine’s hand-held camerawork convincingly conveys the brutal violence of prison life through realistic rapes and agonizing beatings that will undoubtedly upset the squeamish. And it’s too bad the filmmakers didn’t do judicious pruning to trim the grueling two-and-a-half hours running time.

A French Muslim from an Algerian immigrant family, 28 year-old Tahar Rahim holds his own as the anti-hero opposite veteran character actor Niels Arestrup (“The Bourne Ultimatum”). On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “A Prophet” is an amoral, arresting 8, an ambiguous socio-political commentary, not unlike “Gomorrah.”.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.