12 January 2010 | Radu_A
Watch the Renaissance of French Cinema - a Must-See
One of the biggest surprises of 2009, Jacques Audiard's 'Un Prophète' is the best French film in a decade, garnering strong critical and word-of-mouth support and winning the Grand Prix in Cannes (which for years now means that it's the actual festival winner). The surprise is that the story is far from being original: a young Arab sentenced to (adult) prison for the first time is forced by a Corsican mafia boss running the strings there to do his bidding. By and by, he manages to use his underling position to his own advantage. So it's a typical hard-boiled underdog story - what makes it so great then?
'Un Prophète' doesn't differ much in style from the French films of late, which were often so hell-bent on displaying life as a gritty and boring affair, and resorted to radical violence to underscore this point, that spectators were almost forced to feel disgusted, which was then claimed to be a denominator of the film's artistic success. This phenomenon has been called 'New French Extremity'. What Jacques Audiard has done is to combine the aesthetics of this trend with the traditions which once made the French film industry the most power- and meaningful in Europe, namely to focus on the relationship of the leading actors. The result is a film that is totally engaging from the first minute, because it entrusts the actors with the task of transforming the script into something of their own making.
And boy oh boy, Tahar Rahim does that job. A newcomer with a little bit of TV experience, his performance carries 'Un Prophète' with amazing vigor. It's a big chance, and he takes it. Would this be an English-language film, he'd be a surefire contender for the awards. His nemesis is portrayed by Niels Arestrup in an equally flawless, yet much more routinized way, which juxtaposes the two characters perfectly. Add to this the sophisticated editing already present in Audiard's last film 'De battre mon coeur s'est arreté' (2005), and you have the best European film of 2009, in spite of a story that you will most likely have seen dozens of times already.
If you usually don't like European movies, or if you have only time to see one a year, watch this one - you won't regret it.