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Arts & Culture

Un Prophete

"Un Prophete"
Sony Pictures Classics
"Un Prophete"

Oscar Nominee for Best Foreign Language Film

Film Club: Un Prophet
These Days host Maureen Cavanaugh speaks with Beth Accomando and Scott Marks about the french film "Un Prophet" on the KPBS Film Club of the Air.

Oscar did not pick “Un Prophete” (opened March 5 at Landmark’s Hillcrest Cinemas) as its Best Foreign Language Film, although out of all the nominees I saw it was the most deserving. You can listen to our discussion of the film on the Film Club of the Air.

"Un Prophet" is something of a French art film take on Brian DePalma’s “Scarface” in the way it follows a petty crook up the ladder to the top of a crime syndicate. We meet Malik (superbly played by Tahar Rahim) as he’s entering prison as low man on the totem pole. Condemned to six years in prison, Malik is illiterate and completely alone. Still a teenager, he is quickly picked on and brutalized in prison. He’s vulnerable and the Corsican gang running the prison knows that and uses it to its advantage. The gang leader, the aging César Luciani (deftly played by Niels Arestrup), offers the prisoner a deal. He’ll guarantee protection but in exchange Malik will have to murder another prisoner who’s about to be a witness in a mob case. Malik is not up to committing murder, especially not the kind you have to commit inside prison and at close quarters. But Malik proves to be a fast learner and he slowly and methodically rises up the prison ranks.

Directed by Jacques Audiard, "Un Prophete" is a genre film made fresh by an attention to detail (like prisoners getting their daily baguettes) and a willingness to reflect the current cultural turmoil in France. Racism is as strong in prison as out. Malik, an Arab, gets lowly tasks like making coffee and thug work like the dangerous task of committing murder. But he’s always just the Arab. When he tries to connect with César, the response he gets is “I couldn’t care less how you feel." That’s an insult that cuts deeply and provides an underlying motive for Malik's actions and his ambition to take over the prison gang.

"Un Prophete" is in French, Arabic, and Corsican with English subtitles, and is rated R for strong violence, sexual content, nudity, language and drug material."

Companion viewing: "Scarface," "A Man Escapes," "The Beat that my Heart Skipped"

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