September 2, 2010

Justify My Netflix: A Prophet

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

A Prophet

Today's movie: A Prophet, 2009 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because it was passionately recommended to me by CCLaP friend and genre author Lawrence Santoro, a French prison drama by veteran director Jacques Audiard that's been taking world cinema by storm in the last year, including a Best Foreign Language Film nomination at this year's Oscars, as well as winning the same award in Britain, garnering the Grand Prix at last year's Cannes Film Festival, and taking home the Best Picture prize at this year's Cesars (the French version of the Oscars).

The reality: Wow! Well, it's certainly easy to understand why people have been going so nuts for this movie, once you sit and watch it yourself, because it's an almost perfect combination of a whole series of different genres -- not just an inventive caper film, but also a serious character drama, a sobering look at prison conditions in southern Europe, and a nice primer for us clueless Americans on the various ethnic groups of the Mediterranean and the relationships they have with each other. The story hinges around the changing fate of Malik El Djebena, a 19-year-old petty criminal and lapsed Muslim from French North Africa, who while in prison becomes sort of the b-tch of the Corsican mafia (Corsica being an island in the Mediterranean whose relationship with France is similar to Sicily's relationship with Italy), even while being on friendly terms with several do-gooder Muslims; the plot itself, then, revolves around the evermore complex series of cons and crimes that he is coerced into performing on behalf of these various groups, even while setting up his own operations in secret as he keeps a wary eye on yet other ethnic gangs within the prison system (including the bloodthirsty Egyptians, the haughty mainland French, and more).

I won't go into the details, since as a caper film this movie depends a lot on the element of surprise for its enjoyment; but like I said, one thing I will happily admit is how many other ways there are to be fascinated by this movie other than the convoluted plot, including the complex relationship Malik has with his fellow Muslims, as well as the simple look at the brutal conditions that exist in so many European prisons, even as they grant certain human-rights allowances that will make most Americans shake their heads in disbelief (such as these prisons' habits of allowing violent cons to have entire days of furlough outside the jail itself, on the condition that they dutifully report back to the prison at the end of the day, an element that plays heavily into the caper plot itself). The whole thing adds up to a riveting experience by the end, not least of which is because of what I said before, of it being on top of everything else a nice primer for Americans on the various complicated ways that the ethnic groups of the Mediterranean interact; and it comes highly recommended for those who don't mind subtitles in their movies.

Strangest piece of trivia: Tahar Rahim, who plays the main character, originally met Audiard when the two shared a car ride from a different film set.

Worth your time? Yes

Filed by Jason Pettus at 12:08 PM, September 2, 2010. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |