Review: A Prophet

BAYAN PARVIZI urges you to go and see this masterpiece at any cost.

A Prophet Arab Audiard Cinema Film French Movie Parvizi

Parvizi Watches: A Prophet (Un Prophète), 155 min.


It’s always difficult to review a film that has received such universal acclaim. Winner of the Grand Prix at Cannes, this Jacques Audiard (The Beat That My Heart Skipped) film has been touted as the French Godfather, Scarface and Goodfellas. It’s none of these; A Prophet is better. The film follows the incarceration of Malik El Djebena, a French Arab – we never establish which part of the Arab world his family originate from – a fact that is in itself important to French Arab identity. Malik arrives at a grim French prison convicted of assaulting a police officer and is immediately an outsider. He initially refuses to side with the Muslims, the “brothers”, or the Corsicans, who essentially run gaol. In one poignant scene a prison teacher asks the illiterate Malik what language he spoke first – Arabic or French – “Both”, he replies.  This answer reveals Malik’s ability to straddle the ethnic, religious and culture tightrope that French society presents for her citizens, and thus the crux upon which the plot of the film rests upon. Naturally when such a motion picture appears at a time when France is publicly debating the role that multi-culturism plays in a secular society, Malik emerges as a character who is stuck in the middle. He eats pork, has casual sex, sees himself as French, yet also wants to donate to his local mosque, yet can the two ever be reconciled? The film follows Malik’s rise through a very stringent prison hierarchy to a position of great influence. In another seminal scene the young Malik, realising protection is guaranteed by the ruthless Corsicans passes along a corridor where fellow Muslims are being summoned to the timeless call to prayer; Malik passes on.

Other newspaper reviews have delved too deep into the plot and thus made this film’s effect less staggering. Besides from being a state of the nation narrative, Audiard presents a superb thriller, upon which to explain further would ruin one of the best foreign language films of a generation, rather best film for a generation. This film provides not only gritty realism, a far cry from the glitzy scenery of Scarface or the Godfather; the graffiti railways of France a knockout punch to reality from the Manhattan skylines so often portrayed by Hollywood gangster films but also 21st –century Europe. A continent best understood by Europeans, with our inter-faith, ethnic challenges perfectly depicted by Audiard. Can one be Muslim and French? Religious and European? These are answers that Audiard intelligently asks and leaves one pondering highlighting the struggle all Europeans face regardless of which side of the fence they fall upon. Coupled with such questions of identity is a crime thriller that is worthy to stand alone void of deep sociological questions.

Go and see A Prophet, take an afternoon off and rest assured this film is both entertaining, exciting and esoteric; leaving you with myriad questions both about the plot and its implications for not just Malik but for us all.