In terms of pushing the creative envelope in cinema, Audiard’s “a Prophet” does not do anything new. The bresson handbook is strictly adhered to as shakycam verite cinema is created in tightly cinematographed images and sound montages dabbed impressionistically to create portraits in understated yet elegantly expressive cinema.
The film is remarkable for two reasons. one,It pretends that the world of digital CGI never happened . This could have been a film made in the 1960’s nothing about it , except the models of cars would give away the when. Two, it tackles head on a subject the french are loathe to bring up because the revolution drove race underground… their Muslim “minorities” problem.
That said, the Dickensian hero of The prophet, Malik el djebena the eponymous prophet is nothing less than the man escaped from a janzenist prison- Antoine Doniel in a fez and a Michel Poiccard that gets to live(and gets the girl) . A muslim as french as escargot. The reframing of the french catholic experience(couched as being of the corsican resistance/mafia) to the “new ” minority works in a limited way in this morality play.You can see the cinematic resolution papering over real problems that need more than glib boy gets girl denouments. if France has a hollywood , this is the film it would make.
Redemption seems to be foremost on Audillard’s mind. His clarificatory remarks are that this is not his vision for a society. It seems to be his vision for the problem elements in his society. A fresh faced muslim immigrant Djebena is in prison for six years , and is recruited by the former head of corsican seperatists (and now a drug running mafia boss) to kill another prison inmate drug runner, who is muslim, and demands fellatio from fellow prisoners as payment. The rest of the story revolves around the Godfather II like rise of Djebena into the inevitable leader of the underworld in and outside prison.
Tightly cinematographed details of the screenplay keep the narrative linearly focussed toward the inevitable triumphalism of the underdog whom we root for, as we are supposed to.
Tahar rahim Playing Djebna displaying vulnerability and an amoral sense of justice also has us cheering him on from success to hit job until he gets the girl in the end. It’s not until after the film ends that we realize we’ve been had. the film is really advocating a secular(drug smoking/dealing, whoring killer ) muslim be placed at the top of the sorry ghettos of immigrant(Imam?) France to speak both the “Corsican” and the “Muslim” language . The film is nothing more than the same old told powerfully in the language of French Cinema.
As Metaphor, However, the film works on many levels. a prison- redemption drama has been used effectively to describe many existential situations from renisscence men (and Djebena is a quintessential one) to the new immigrant experience to the problem of “terrorism”.
The gentle pointing finger of the director asserts that the protagonist learns the language(and this pays him many dividends) , gets an education, often from fellow muslims who have “infiltrated the system” and is ruthlessly amoral when it comes to things he does not have a strong opinion about. The hero also is painted as someone who, when he has an opinion – ideologie, stands by it and protects and defends it. The hero is thus a frenchman, the filmmaker seems to say.
Often the neophytes are the best defenders of old religions …or causes.