People are already calling A Prophet the film of the year, and it's only January (well, it was when I watched this, heh). I have to agree that it's a quality made film with an intricate plot, clever ethereal touches and tough yet brittle characters. The French do do their thrillers well, that has to be said. And now they've come up trumps with a sophisticated and slick prison drama too. Oh, and that razor scene...
I really enjoyed the first hour where we see young Arab Malik imprisoned for an unsaid crime, how he reacts to prison life, and then how he is targeted by the gang of Corsicans who want him to kill in a man in exchange for his protection. This is one of those films with a superbly crafted double layer - where what is happening on the screen means another thing in a character's mind which the viewer has either been privy to, or must work out simultaneously with the protagonist. For instance, Malik randomly joins in a fight in the textiles room with no explained motive, but as you begin to wonder why, you realise he is doing it to try and get put in 'The Hole' - an isolation area where he couldn't possibly take part in the Corsican's planned murder. Seconds later this is explained on screen, but now we are already inside Malik's mind, and begin to start plotting with him as he tries to hold his own. I thought that was brilliant, especially enhanced with the excellent turn by Tahar Rahim as Malik, who does impressively well in his first big feature film and will undoubtedly go onto big things (he has already been nominated for the Orange Rising Star award at the Baftas).
So, this was definitely a film where you had to keep focused to keep up with all the double crossings and switches of allegiance. Unfortunately for me, hard concentration wasn't enough to keep me in tune of events, which I seemed to lose hold of around the second time Mailk is granted leave. It was a little hard to keep up with who was who and when people were going against orders and working for themselves. That's no fault of the film, just me and my blockheadedness! I must confess this isn't normally the type of film I seek out and spend my weekends watching, so I'm not always on the ball with complex trickeries.
One of my favourite bits of the film was the dream sequences and the hauntings by the man he kills. I thought they were very subtly done - hinting that Malik might be going slightly mad but never directly addressing it (The Boys are Back could learn a thing or two here about conversing with dead people!). The deer dream was arresting as it was so random and removed from what else was going on in the film, you wonder why it's there and what its purpose is. And then of course 20 minutes later, it all makes sense as a nasty road accident and a very acrobatic flailing deer saves Malik from having his brains blown out (leading to the line, "are you a prophet?").
At two and a half hours it is rather long and I think you need to be a real lover of these types of film to really appreciate A Prophet. It's worth catching though, at least to say you've seen the Best Foreign Film announced at the Oscars in 2010.