Is 'A Prophet' France's answer to 'The Godfather'?

0

Comments

Add +

Smart prison flick ‘A Prophet’ is set to win awards and hearts as one of 2010’s most popular French movies with British filmgoers. Cath Clarke speaks to its celebrated – and stylish – director Jacques Audiard.

Early on in ‘A Prophet’ – Jacques Audiard’s French prison thriller – a 19-year-old rookie inmate, Malik (Tahar Rahim), gets stitched up by the jail’s ruling gang of Corsicans. Kill or be killed, they tell him: either he executes a hit on a snitch or they will get him. An offer he can’t refuse, prison as school of crime; this ought to be the stuff of pure genre pulp. But from the director of ‘Read My Lips’ and ‘The Beat That My Heart Skipped’, it makes for blistering contemporary filmmaking. An immersive two-and-a-half hours, ‘A Prophet’ took seven years to reach the screen. France’s Oscar candidate, it puts Audiard up there with cinema’s heavyweights – and would have been as popular a Palme d’Or winner as Michael Haneke’s ‘The White Ribbon’ last year.

In the end, Audiard had to make do with Cannes’s second prize, the Grand Prix. As for murdering that informant, the Corsicans arrange for Malik to be alone with him. It’s gut-punch viewing: a brutal bear struggle as Malik tries to kill a man who won’t die – with a razor blade in a six-by-eight cell. Audiard felt sick before filming. ‘I’m ill at ease with violence.’ After a pause, he concludes: ‘I would find it bizarre to make violence look good.’ If he didn’t look so earnest, Audiard’s squeamishness might seem incongruous. This from a man dressed like an extra from a bar-room scene in a Jean-Pierre Melville film – a reporter with a taste for Mickey Spillane gangsters? Wearing a cravat, a trademark trilby on the table near him, he keeps his sunglasses on as we talk.

A Prophet’ is the story of a little guy who becomes a big guy – more genre fodder for you. When Malik walks into prison with a six-year sentence he’s an illiterate, homeless nobody. After his run in with the Corsicans, he starts working for them, small fry stuff, but he’s good. Still, as a French Arab, he will never be fully accepted and begins to expand a power base of his own, gradually feeling a pull towards the prison’s Muslim population. The film can be summarised as a search for identity, says Audiard.
‘I wanted a character who is naive, who builds up his story and identity within his community.’ He describes Malik as an anti-‘Scarface’. ‘With Tony Montana we are on the side of evil, of deep de-socialisation. Malik is the opposite. He wants to be socialised.’ By becoming a thug? ‘Yes, with the means he’s got. But I think that desire is quite virtuous.

’Personal destiny. The possibility of changing your life. But at what cost? These are Audiard’s calling cards, and his films – for all their super-charged edginess – are serious-minded affairs. ‘Cinema is there to see the world. It’s a tool, and you have to ask yourself what you’re using it for,’ he says. In ‘A Prophet’, a chat between two inmates about the changeover from franc to euro places us around 2002, near the beginning of the West’s fear of Muslim radicalisation. An undercurrent, never overplayed, it’s a theme if you want it. The point, says Audiard, was to put a cat among the pigeons, break out of the stereotypes of Arabs in French cinema. ‘The world changes and heroic figures must evolve. In my mind there are new mythologies to build on, new faces.’

New face Rahim’s performance as Malik will be the making of him. His taut scenes with the Corsican godfather, César, are some of film’s most powerful. César is played by Niels Arestrup, who was the father in ‘The Beat That My Heart Skipped’ – lasciviously flabby and wrecked by excess in that film. In ‘A Prophet’ he’s a caged lion: all unpredictability and atrophied muscles. Father-son relationships are another Audiard preoccupation, though he says the dynamic here is more master-slave. ‘César shows no paternal tenderness at all.’ Audiard is a fine director of actors: Mathieu Kassovitz in his two early films; Vincent Cassel and Emmanuelle Devos in ‘Read My Lips’; Romain Duris in ‘The Beat That My Heart Skipped’. Just don’t ask about his method. ‘It’s a question that embarrasses me. I don’t know what my method is…’

Audiard has made only five films to date, very few for a director of 57. It’s a fact that might go unnoticed but for him mentioning it frequently. The son of filmmaker Michel Audiard, he worked first as an editor then as a scriptwriter. ‘I’m too apprehensive, I write for too long,’ he says, adding that he wants to step up the pace. Every time he films, he feels anxious. ‘We took three years to write this script – too long.’

That perfectionism might play havoc with Audiard’s nerves, but it gives ‘A Prophet’ remarkable authenticity, the pulse of prison life: voyeurism, repetition, short expedient bursts of violence. A jail was created on an industrial estate outside Paris and ex-cons were cast to lend it the right feel. At the end of the interview – and I suspect many others – Audiard leaves open the possibility of a sequel, ‘Godfather’-style. ‘Me too,’ he says when told the film left me desperate to find out what happens to Malik. Would he like to make another one? ‘I’m not sure I would.’ He shrugs. ‘Maybe I’m saying that because I’m still talking about this one.’ Another shrug, he looks around. ‘Later I might feel ready.’

Read our review of ‘A Prophet’' here

Author: Cath Clarke



Users say

0 comments


Top Stories

Meet the dream team: a preview of ‘Les Misérables’

Meet the dream team: a preview of ‘Les Misérables’

Director Tom Hooper and his cast tell us how they turned the super-musical into movie blockbuster.

Oscar predictions

Oscar predictions

The Time Out film team weighs in on the nominees for the 2013 Academy Awards

January film highlights 2013

January film highlights 2013

Get ready for the big guns… Spielberg, Tarantino and Bigelow

October film highlights

October film highlights

Daniel Craig’s 007 comeback, a genius indie romcom and all the mysteries behind ‘The Shining’ unravelled.

The Time Out film debate 2012 highlights

The Time Out film debate 2012 highlights

The results of our study on the state of films and filmgoing in 2012.

Read 'Time Out film debate 2012 highlights'

Martin Freeman interview

Martin Freeman interview

'The Hobbit' actor tells us why he wouldn't have a pint with Bilbo Baggins.

Sam Mendes interview

Sam Mendes interview

Dave Calhoun speaks to the director of 'Skyfall' about the latest film in the Bond franchise.

Ang Lee interview

Ang Lee interview

The genre-hopping director tells us how he invented a new genre with 'Life of Pi'

Michael Haneke interview

Michael Haneke interview

The twice Palme d'Or-winning director discusses 'Amour'.

Read our interview with Michael Haneke

Thomas Vinterberg interview

Thomas Vinterberg interview

The Danish director talks about his powerful new drama 'The Hunt'.

Read our interview with Thomas Vinterberg'

Ten things the 'Twilight' movies did for us

Ten things the 'Twilight' movies did for us

Time Out looks back at the impact of the 'Twilight' saga.

Discover what 'Twilight' has done for us

On the set of 'Sightseers'

On the set of 'Sightseers'

Time Out heads to the Lake District to visit director Ben Wheatley on set.

Read about our visit to the 'Sightseers' set

Tim Burton interview

Tim Burton interview

The director talks about 'Frankenweenie', which he describes as 'the ultimate memory piece'.

Read our interview with Tim burton

The top ten Christmas films of 2012

The top ten Christmas films of 2012

Our pick of the best films showing over the festive period.

Read 'The top ten Christmas films of 2012'

What's your film guilty pleasure?

What's your film guilty pleasure?

Mean Girls? Dirty Dancing? Tell us your favourite film guilty pleasure.

Read 'Film guilty pleasures'

When teen stars turn serious

When teen stars turn serious

Ten young actors come of age on the silver screen.

Read 'When teen stars turn serious'

50 years of James Bond

50 years of James Bond

From Connery to Craig, we revisit all 22 Bond films.

Read '50 years of James Bond'

Paul Thomas Anderson interview

Paul Thomas Anderson interview

The director talks Scientology and working with Joaquin Phoenix.

Read the interview

Hilarious horror films

Hilarious horror films


Ten funny horror movies which went spectacularly off the rails.

Read 'Hilarious horror films'

Martin McDonagh interview

Martin McDonagh interview

The director talks psychopaths and theatre – 'my least favourite artform'.

Read the interview

Autumn horror films

Autumn horror films

We round-up the five best horror movies of Autumn 2012.

Read about this Autumn's best horror movies

On the set of Skyfall

On the set of Skyfall

Time Out visits Istanbul to see the latest Bond movie being made.

Read 'On the set of Skyfall'

Bond: then and now

Bond: then and now

Does Skyfall refresh or rehash the James Bond franchise?

Sally Potter interview

Sally Potter interview

The British director explains why 'Ginger and Rosa' is her most mainstream film yet.

Daniel Craig interview

Daniel Craig interview

'I’m almost as in demand as Brad Pitt’