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:: A Prophet (Un prophète)

French film A Prophet is not the kind of movie that will have you settling back in your cinema chair, with a bucket of popcorn in one hand and a smile playing at your lips. Instead, this film will have you on the edge of your seat, ever fearful what’s going to happen next. A Prophet packs a punch and will remain with you long after you leave the cinema.

The story follows likeable, albeit fragile, Malik (Tahar Rahim), who is part Arab and part Corsican. (For those not in the know, Corsica is a French island in the Mediterranean Sea, located west of Italy and southeast of France’s mainland.) But this is not a pretty postcard piece about Corsica. Instead, it’s set within the grimy walls of prison, where Malik is condemned to spend six years. At 19, he is fresh-faced and illiterate, with no family to turn to, having spent much of his youth in a juvenile detention centre.

The location of his prison cell unfortunately leads to him being cornered by the leader of a Corsican gang, Cesar (Niels Arestrup), who rules the jail and has the prison warden in his back pocket. In the prison world, there’s none of the support you’re usually afforded in general society. Instead, it’s survival of the fittest – virtual lawlessness.

Malik is given a number of “missions” to carry out to ensure he gets Cesar’s protection, toughening himself up in the process. There are scenes – admittedly - where I had to close my eyes, block my ears and pray the next scene would come quickly. The violence is quite graphic. On the flipside, at least it isn’t glamourised – it shows the ugly, gritty reality of it. And, while he may appear young and naïve, Malik is, in fact, a fast learner and rises up the prison ranks, all the while secretly devising his own plans.

The character of ageing gang leader Cesar Luciani is a compelling one too. For an inmate, he is immaculately dressed, with powerful poise. He’s also ruthless.

This film also highlights the sometimes strained race relations between the difficult cultures in Europe – in this case, between the Arabs and the Frenchmen.