Crime behind bars
On first sight, young Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim) is unimpressive. Almost mute in his illiteracy, the young Arab who has been sentenced to six years in a French prison appears doomed to being as much a victim inside as outside. From the moment he's fingered by the prison's Corsican mafia to kill a fellow-inmate, he's a useful but 'dirty' Arab. But El Djebena, in his quiet, unobtrusive way, begins to gain trust and make friends, and through a mixture of persistence, street smarts and boldness, rises far above what others have designated him to be.
In its gradual build-up, Un prophète is as subtle as Scarface is not. The results are plain to see – even when it is clear El Djebena has made it, even when he is wholeheartedly embracing violence, he's still the same vulnerable-looking, likeable young man. This has a lot to do with the complex cast of criminals who inhabit his world – the overbearing yet somehow pitiable Corsican Luciano; handsome, ailing Ryad; drug-dealing Jordi Le Gitan; and the ghost of Reyeb, who El Djebena has brutally murdered.
A crime movie as epic as any that have come before, and far more than the prison study it appears to be in the opening scenes.
Un prophète (2009)
Dir. Jacques Audiard
Once, and again
Dir. John Carney