Director: Jacques Audiard Release Date: January 22 Review by Tara Judah Expectations of writer/director Jacques Audiard have been set high since the success of both Read My Lips (2001) and The Beat that My Heart Skipped (2005), but A Prophet (2009) doesn’t disappoint. A Prophet is the story of a young, uneducated man, Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim), who, when faced with an issue of ethics: kill or be killed, embarks upon a simultaneous fall from grace and rise to power. Everything Malik becomes originates from that one moment and Audiard’s treatment of its causal effects result in an incredibly powerful film that elucidates the brutal realism of a corrupt prison system and subtly metaphors the capitalist world where commoditization continuously controls. From the very opening of the film, Audiard establishes an air of ambiguity; shot hand held from inside a transport vehicle, Malik arrives for incarceration, and though the details of prison procedures appear exact, the crime he has allegedly committed is only ever referred to and his state of innocence is never truly established. Attempting to keep to himself, Malik is unwittingly selected by Corsican gang leader Cesar to take the life of a new Muslim inmate. After exhausting all the official avenues to no avail - appealing to corrupt guards and acting out with the hope of being confined to ‘the hole’ - Malik resigns himself to commit the crime. All throughout this sequence of events, and indeed for the most part of the film, Malik is portrayed as an alienated individual cut-off from family, friends, community, religion and any other ideological institution that might render him attached or conflicted in his motivations and indeed actions. Resultantly, Audiard reveals a character that is much like a canvas: though subject to the actions of others there is no certainty or finiteness as to what will ensue. Audiard understands, perhaps better than any other filmmaker, the importance of language and the art of communication. A recurring theme in his work is the idea that communication is the key to liberation; in Read My Lips it is a deaf woman’s ability to lip read that allows her to move beyond the limitations of her staid life, and in The Beat that My Heart Skipped it is the language of music that offers Thomas a way out of his life of crime. So too in A Prophet it is Malik’s ability to learn to speak three languages that frees him from his servile position. Throughout the film as Malik rises within the world of crime there is a definite aspiration towards consumerism. At first it is just some cigarettes, then it is a better cell, a fridge, a television and so on until finally he is granted leave days where he can go out and earn money itself. Malik’s advance within the capitalist system is concurrent with the education he receives from inside it; learning language and economics Audiard reveals the key to surviving an oppressive system is not necessarily to opt out but to take from it a tool with which to fight. Ultimately, the utility of language in A Prophet is a form of commerce. In addition to the intelligent story and moving character studies Audiard exemplarily conveys, A Prophet offers an unusual and striking combination of realism, astutely reflecting contemporary race relations in France, and existentialism, exploring the interiority of the individual with regard to, though not bound by, religion and spirituality as pertaining to both the public and the personal. An outstanding achievement in cinema, A Prophet is Audiard’s greatest work to date, and the real prophecy that the film brings is the promise of so much more to come. Not yet at the pinnacle of his career, just as Malik reveals himself a free man, so too does Audiard reveal himself to be France’s finest contemporary auteur. Though it is only just February, I write assuredly that A Prophet will be a tough contender for the best film release of 2010. Rating:9 /10