Twitter Plot Summary: An Arab teen enters prison and, with no ties to anyone, starts to make a name for himself.
Five Point Summary:
1. Young guy in prison? He’s going to have fun.
2. Shanked. TO DEATH!
3. Allowed outside. For a bit.
4. The balance of power shifts…
5. Is he actually a prophet?
Recently I’ve started to see a few more films in the prison sub-genre, and that has led me to A Prophet (Une Prophete in the original French), a tense and gritty drama following Malik, a 19 year old Arab who finds himself in standard prison after attacking police officers in the outside world. It’s a classic case of bettering yourself whilst behind prison walls, although perhaps not as society may have preferred. Yes, Malik teaches himself to read, but he also ingratiates himself with the Corsicans who make him a runner for them both inside and outside of the prison gates. Thanks to a few strings being pulled Malik gets to spend some time outside prison, ostensibly to complete work for the Corsicans, yet also furthering his own agenda on the side. These trips outside the prison walls also allow him to connect with his friend who happens to be dying of cancer.
Haunted by the ghost of the man he killed, Malik is a man caught between two worlds, trapped between the world of the Corsican inmates and the world of the Muslims – being of Arabic descent means he sits outside both of those main groups. As time goes on, the balance of power within the prison starts to shift, and it’s entertaining watching Malik make the most of this – making deals, playing various groups off against one another. It’s clear that, despite his less than auspicious start, that he’s learned the ropes and is actually somewhat of a tactical genius – in a sense.
The “prophet” of the title is a loose connection in a sense – Malik dreams about hitting deer in a car, and then that subsequently happens. Is he capable of having visions, or was this just a coincidence? Furthermore, is Malik really being haunted by a ghost, or is it just indicative of his damaged psyche? Questions aplenty, and not especially ones you really need to be concerned with in the grand scheme of things. Overall it could have perhaps been less opaque in this respect, or ditched the prophetic aspect entirely, as it wouldn’t have made a huge amount of difference overall. But then on the other hand, a little ambiguity never hurt, so I don’t really have issue with it.
The power of the story comes through the ever so subtle way in which Malik makes his ascent from being a nobody to becoming the main man within and without the prison walls. At no point does the transition feel impossible or improbable, instead it all occurs naturally and without fanfare. I’m sure in other hands there would have been temptation to either force the story off in an unnatural direction, to make it more violent, more spectacular and even more action-based than what we actually received. It is to the credit of director Jacques Audiard and his co-writers that they didn’t go down the obvious path, and A Prophet has turned out to be a near essential prison-based film as a result.