Announcement

Collapse
No announcement yet.

Un prophète, de Jacques Audiard

Collapse
X
 
  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Un prophète, de Jacques Audiard


    Jeudi 1 Octobre 2009 -- Le réalisateur Jacques Audiard vient de signer le film français, sans doute le plus époustouflant de l’année. Un prophète est un long métrage de deux heures trente qui raconte l’histoire d’un jeune Arabe condamné à 6 ans de prison et livré à une lutte de survie sans merci. Salué par la critique et le public dès sa projection au Festival de Cannes, Un prophète en est sorti avec le grand prix du jury et une déferlante médiatique qui n’a pas fait que louer le coup de maître du grand Audiard. Le jeune acteur d’origine algérienne, Tahar Rahim, incarne le rôle principal dans ce thriller très spécial. Jusque-là inconnu du répertoire cinématographique français, il crève littéralement l’écran grâce à un jeu d’acteur remarquable où l’authenticité le dispute à l’intensité pour rendre, de la manière la plus accomplie, la violence, l’injustice et les innombrables humiliations et compromis de l’univers carcéral. Malik El-Djebena, incarné par Rahim, est un jeune détenu condamné à 6 ans de prison, qui se voit contraint de se mettre sous la coupe d’un groupe de prisonniers corses dont le leader est un vieux maffieux cynique, raciste et misanthrope, brillamment interprété par Niels Arestrup. Le jeune Malik se découvre un instinct de survie féroce grâce auquel il réussit à composer avec le milieu carcéral et à se faire une place au soleil en tissant son propre réseau et en exploitant au maximum son don naturel pour la magouille. Cette lutte implacable au cœur d’une prison, où la corruption, la violence et le clanisme sont les maîtres mots, nous est exposée avec un style, poignant de réalisme, où il n’est pas question d’omettre le moindre détail de la vie carcérale.

    Jacques Audiard ne cherche pas à plaire ni d’ailleurs à signer un documentaire « pleurnichard » sur les atrocités de la prison. Tout au long des 150 minutes que dure le film, le spectateur est littéralement jeté au cœur de l’univers carcéral. La cruauté, le sang et l’extrême violence, si savamment portés à l’écran, ne charment pas d’emblée, bien au contraire. La complicité entre réalisateur et acteurs n’a pas fait que des admirateurs puisque Audiard nous présente un jeune Arabe complètement différent du cliché cinématographique ambiant, qui n’incarne ni la victime ni le bourreau, mais simplement un homme prêt à tout pour survivre et sortir des geôles avec le maximum de bénéfices. Il n’y a ni leçon ni morale à tirer de cette fresque humaine si vraisemblable qui vous scotche, pour ainsi dire, quel que soit votre avis sur la question. Il est difficile, en effet, de résister à ce film balançant entre le film d’auteur et l’œuvre grand public, dans lequel tout est minutieusement étudié, de l’apparence extérieure des acteurs jusqu’au moindre mot du scénario, en passant par la lumière et la musique. Il est donc normal qu’une œuvre si dérangeante, gorgée de violences et surtout dégagée de toute prétention moralisatrice suscite une polémique. Figures politiques, médias et associations ont dénoncé, entre autres, l’aspect «Scarface» du film. Les jeunes banlieusards s’identifieraient, en effet, en la personne de Malik, ce qui ne manquera pas d’attiser leur penchant pour la violence ! Les nationalistes corses s’y sont mis également en déplorant l’image négative, «caricaturale et insultante» que donne l’ouvrage de leurs prisonniers. Ces critiques que les «adeptes» du film jugent plates et, justement, caricaturales, n’ont évidemment rien enlevé au succès retentissant du film que beaucoup de journalistes spécialisés dans le cinéma et de spectateurs qualifient de chef-d’œuvre. Oui, cette œuvre poignante et, disons-le, proche de la perfection n’a rien à envier aux grands classiques du cinéma d’auteur hollywoodien. À voir absolument… plusieurs fois même.

  • #2
    Magnifique ! À voir absolument !

    Comment


    • #3
      Jason Solomons:


      January 17, 2010 -- In the finest of showbiz traditions, Tahar Rahim went to Cannes a nobody and came back a star. His knockout performance in director Jacques Audiard's stunning prison film A Prophet has been the talk of world cinema ever since, earning prizes and nominations at a startling rate. So much so that the 28-year-old at the centre of it all is quite bewildered. "It's like I went up the red steps at Cannes and never came down," he says. Having won Best Actor at the European Film Awards in December, Rahim last week found himself among the nominees for Bafta's Orange Rising Star Award (for which the Observer is a media partner), alongside British talents Nicholas Hoult and Carey Mulligan and the Hollywood actors Jesse Eisenberg and Twilight's Kristen Stewart. Tonight he's at the Golden Globes in Los Angeles. "I'm just a boy from the countryside," he told me. "These awards ceremonies exist in another world, like myths. They're not something I ever thought about, so it's not a dream come true. It is the impossible made real."

      Rahim, the son of Algerian-born parents, grew up in the eastern town of Belfort, famous for the nutty Comté cheese. "There's really nothing to do there," he recalls. "Some kids go walking in the mountains but I just went to the cinema. So when I told my parents I wanted to be an actor, even though this wasn't normal for Arab kids or anyone in the town, they were sort of expecting it and were very supportive." After studying in Montpellier, Rahim arrived in Paris aged 22. His first real acting job was in a cult TV show called La Commune, written by Abdel Raouf Dafri, who also had the original script idea for A Prophet. When director Audiard visited the screenwriter one day, Tahar found himself sharing a car to the set with the director of several of his favourite French films, including The Beat That my Heart Skipped. "I knew it was Audiard and I said I was a fan but I think I was a bit silly. I was shocked he remembered me months later when I went for a part in A Prophet."

      After eight callbacks the actor landed the lead role of Malik, a 19-year-old Arab who rises through the hierarchy of Corsican and Muslim mafia in a Paris prison. It almost overwhelmed him. "I rewatched all Audiard's films and studied the performances by Vincent Cassel, Mathieu Kassovitz and Romain Duris, but that was a terrible idea," he says. "It stopped me from feeling bold enough to put in my own thing. But when I did, I was suddenly flying." Audiard is proud of his acting discovery. "Tahar is the gentlest boy, so to transform him into Malik is one of the best achievements of my career," he says. "But it's what makes Malik such a fascinating hero, because you see this kindness in a soul that's being brutalised."

      Will A Prophet make Tahar Rahim a star? Although we are talking in French, his English is impressive and he has just played a Gaelic warrior in The Eagle of the Ninth for director Kevin Macdonald, and soon begins work for director Ismaël Ferroukhi. But first there's the Globes, the London Critics' Circle, the Césars and the Baftas. "I know this might never happen again," he says, bubbling with excitement, "so I'm going to try to remember it all, which is not very easy for me. I really want to see my film's English poster. It's the best version – it's got a danger to it, a blood-red poetry that matches the film."

      Comment


      • #4
        Hunter Stephenson:


        January 23, 2010 -- If a male filmmaker desires to throw up grim truth and reality before the eyes of moviegoers and also swoon critics, many of whom subsist on darker themes, he will at some point consider making a film about war or prison. There are no greater immediate settings for tapping perennial sentiments of a mad world, or for demystifying masculinity by scraping it and reducing it to a primal essence. Unlike the ambitious gangster or mob film, reputable prison dramas tend to feature a protagonist that is closer to us, a person thrown to hell rather than embodying it, nakedly amidst wolves as opposed to running with them. (Ironic, given these characters’ punishments at the hands of society and/or government.) Engrossing and well-crafted but formulaic and borderline genre-fare, A Prophet is the latest prison film to follow this mold and punch its way creatively outward. Winner of the Grand Prix at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, A Prophet has landed on a number of top 10 lists for 2009; with a domestic release forthcoming, we’ll likely see its inclusion on many of this year’s as well.

        When /Film posted the first trailer for A Prophet, we noted the audacity of a London Times quote shown therein declaring it on par with Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (including The Godfather 2). I can’t deny that as I began to watch the film this month in NYC inside a private Sony screening room — the company releasing the French picture stateside — this type of loud, post-Cannes buzz danced lightly atop my skepticism. Clocking in at almost three hours though, I wondered how A Prophet might challenge the scope and history of Coppola’s masterpieces when it’s primarily set in such a confined setting. When the credits rolled, I was both surprised and mildly disappointed to find that A Prophet covered more literal ground sans flashbacks than fresh psychological and culturally territory. In a brisk and familiar wash-’em-and-cloth-’em fashion, viewers are introduced to the main character, a street-wise, uneducated and confident 19-year-old inmate named Malik. Convicted of assaulting a cop (in addition to having priors) we encounter Malik as he’s sentenced to six years in a French prison. Half-Arab and half-French, once Malik is officially in the system we observe as he carefully walks and observes the edge of a divide between Arab inmates and the looming, controlling Corisican inmates (whose mob ties are even stronger outside).

        Somewhat predictably, a sex-related shower scene is pivotal to Malik, a loner, being coerced to side with the Corisicans by murdering an Arab for their benefit. If he refuses, he will likely spend his sentence fearing a similar fate. And to the film’s benefit, Malik is an opportunist first, an ethicist third or fourth. From this point forward, the film attempts to shed light on the discrimination of Muslims in French prisons (and in general French society). But honestly any enlightenment provided is interchangeable with the culture-clashes seen in so many American-made prison movies; a similar tension between imprisoned blacks and Neo-Nazis in American History X is more gripping on screen, the conflicting physicality and violation more haunting.

        The prison in A Prophet is believable enough but its hidden workings and commerce are never profound enough to make it feel like a character; this is a fault in my opinion. Within the prison’s walls, the aesthetics and daily routines are again reminiscent of those seen in American films. Casual shop-talk about spending time in “the hole” and so forth. Sex, drugs, and Playstations are smuggled in via a don’t-look-don’t-tell makeshift hierarchy, just as favors have for years in prisons in films and in real life. This is fine, but so many trodden aspects of prison life here are presented, however solidly, as if we haven’t seen them on screen before. However, where A Prophet makes a memorable claim for originality is in the preference of director Jacques Audiard (The Beat that My Heart Skipped) to forgo aforementioned muscular archetypes in favor of a less pronounced physicality in hero and villain. A career-making performance by Algerian actor Tahar Rahim as Malik is every bit as magnetic as Tom Hardy’s in Nicolas Winding Refn’s rioutous 2009 ode to prison-alpha-antics Bronson. (And it’s up there with Eric Bana’s performance in Andrew Dominik’s similar Chopper from 2000.) Yet, Rahim’s smarts and reserved swagger recall a ’70s star — a great ’stache, natch — and share none of Hardy’s and Bana’s psycho rage, or Edward Norton’s equally formidable, transformative brawn. He’s Steve McQueen and Leo Fitzpatrick rolled in one, a modern throwback.

        Rahim is just an impossibly cool mother****er on screen. It’s hard to deny or to recall an actor in a prison film who is this handsome. In the film’s grittier scenes, as when Malik practices hiding a razor blade in his mouth in front of a mirror — for an upcoming murder — the horror of his situation doesn’t resonate fully because we’re too busy reveling in a failed challenge to Malik’s steely calm. Malik’s defacto boss in the prison, an aged, white-haired Corisican leader named Cesar (Niels Arestrup) is similarly lacking in physique — his belly a bulge, his face mean but soft-chinned and fey in a European way. Unlike Rahim/Malik, in this case I was not convinced that such a man could reign supreme for years over a chaotic criminal enterprise in prison. In fact, I’d argue that given the film’s length, viewers should have had more insight into how Cesar maintained his iron grip while exploring his blackmarket savvy.

        Cesar’s age is never eclipsed by a healthy, superlative intelligence or a talent for masterful manipulation — Harry Dean Stanton’s character, The Prophet, on Big Love comes to mind as an example of getting this right, as does, of course, Marlon Brando in The Godfather. In several scenes, Cesar seems too desperate and slight, but also too dramatically overheated, whether when threatening Malik in the yard or conducting business from his comfortable cell. The stakes involved in inevitable conflicts between Cesar and Malik never soar towards a pulsing and satisfying conclusion. We fear Malik’s unpredictable determination more than Cesar’s wrath.

        Audiard desires to illustrate an everyman who comes from nothing, becomes something, and transcends into something of almost mythical stature and power — mirroring the arc of unapologetic gangster pictures (Blow, Scarface, American Gangster). Audiard’s film is literally framed as a series of Machiavellian lessons learned, recalling an Oscar-minded adaptation of the cult self-help book The 48 Laws of Power; these lessons are fleshed out with a series of encounters with strangers — complete with their first names boldly presented on screen — whose faces are carved by years of crimes committed and and crimes survived. Was I the only one reminded of Grand Theft Auto in this regard? A few of these peripheral characters are not memorable enough to warrant the Inglourious Basterds-like freeze frames.

        Going in, I didn’t know the title could be interpreted literally. On several occasions, Malik is visited in his cell by the ghost of his first murder victim. This could very well be a psychological manifestation of guilt, but in such scenes Malik becomes privy to prophetic foresight. During one mission involving roadside deer, a premonition eerily saves his life. The Dawinism-like symbolism of these supernatural elements eludes me; and the addition of a fantastical, artsy-inclined badge on a work of stark realism would be jarring if it wasn’t subtly massaged into the proceedings. Unlike like The Godfather, A Prophet never decides what to say about society, the source and minutiae of ethnic differences, and the human condition (beyond a capacity for resilience and character building). But it’s also unlike Bronson and Chopper, because A Prophet does indeed strive for a higher meaning; epic philosophical notions just end up wisping through the sunlight-starved, gray walls of its prison setting like Malik’s ghost pal.

        Fortunately, watching Tahar Rahim mature as Malik and watching the way he soaks up all of the life and leisure he can during 24-hour releases from prison (granted for good behavior, used to complete violent missions) will stay with you years after you leave the theater. If there’s a successfully conveyed theme here, it’s that once you’re done with something it’s not necessarily done with you.

        Comment


        • #5
          Chris Lee:


          February 7, 2010 -- It is unquestionably the most shocking scene in A Prophet, the baroque and urgent French gangster movie that was nominated for a foreign language film Oscar last week. Cringe-inducing and hyper-real, the action manages to encapsulate every abiding fear about prison life -- about desperate men in close quarters, mob rule and coerced sex - into one blood-soaked sequence. In the film, which hits theaters February 26, Tahar Rahim portrays Malik, a teenage street hood of Arab descent sentenced to hard time for assaulting a cop. After being propositioned in the shower by another inmate named Reyeb - who offers hard drugs in exchange for sexual favors - Malik falls under the sway of Corsican Mafia strongmen. They order him to murder Reyeb (who's a witness in a mob trial) or be killed for refusing. Then comes the gruesome altercation, one hinging on Malik's ability to make use of a razor blade that he has strategically concealed under his tongue. A struggle to the death with fountains of arterial spray ensues.

          Throughout movie history, films from Stalag 17 to Stir Crazy have capitalized on the prison milieu's volatile Darwinism to motor the dramatic conflict of men backed into a corner. But A Prophet (Un Prophète) is hardly an exercise in gratuitous jailhouse violence. Equal parts coming-of-age drama, criminal character study and sociological rumination, it details the creation of a new kind of mob don - call him an equal opportunity equivalent to Michael Corleone for multicultural France. The movie has drawn comparisons to last year's brooding Italian verite-style crime drama Gomorrah but is more frequently likened to The Godfather en route to scoring a Golden Globe nod, a European Film Award and the grand jury prize at last year's Cannes Film Festival.

          In addition to being what a British critic has called "the coolest movie to come out of Europe for many years," the Sony Pictures Classics-distributed film takes a provocative political stance. It shattered a taboo of French film by heroically depicting the criminal exploits of a Muslim protagonist of Arab descent. In an era when young people of color regularly loot and burn cars in Parisian suburbs as a form of political protest, and France continues to grapple with how the influx of African and North African immigrants will affect its national identity, the antihero character Malik (and Rahim's star-making portrayal of him) arrives as a breakthrough. He certainly does not fit into French cinema's boilerplate character types for French Arabs: the terrorist, the urban troublemaker or the earnest-yet-poor scholarship student.

          And to hear it from writer-director Jacques Audiard (behind such award-winning films as The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Read My Lips), a kind of pop cultural social empowerment is what propelled the movie's five-year path to the screen: the impulse to do for French Arabs what such films as Goodfellas and The Godfather trilogy have done for Italian Americans. "The objective here from the very beginning was to make a genre film - one that very democratically represents a group of people who are not typically represented," Audiard said. "To represent them with roles within that genre. Like Cagney, Bogart, DeNiro."

          Unfolding chronologically, A Prophet begins with Malik El Djebena's arrival in a Parisian prison - illiterate and without a worldly possession to his name - and concludes with his discharge, a changed man (although decidedly not because he has paid his debt to society). Along the way, the movie is by turns pulse-quickening and dense, shot-through with dreamlike sequences. With his ability to speak Arabic and "pass" for something other than Muslim, Malik finds himself in a unique position. He must balance his allegiances to the inmate population's two main factions: the Arabs' Muslim gang and the Corsican Mafia, who not only run things behind bars but stage criminal operations - assassinations, drug deals, kidnappings - outside the jailhouse walls while prisoners are on work furloughs. Malik starts out as a gopher for the pernicious kingpin played by Niels Arestrup and is eventually entrusted to run important "missions" for the mob. But as Malik's responsibilities grow, so do his ambitions - as well as his resentment at the Corsicans' open disdain for him.

          Underworld inspiration

          Seated last month at a banquet table at the Beverly Hills home of the French consul-general, Audiard drew on his pipe and recalled the genesis of the movie. His inspiration came when he was screening his crime-thriller The Beat That My Heart Skipped, for a prison film club. "They were young people, about 90% Arabic and black, very poor," he recalled. "You realize, there's an underworld there, people that don't have access to anything." Which was about the time he received a script from Abdel Raouf Dafri and Nicolas Peufaillit. The bare bones of how a small-time gangster became a big-time gangster were there - as was the infamous razor blade scene - but Audiard and his screenwriting partner Thomas Bidegain embarked on an extensive rewrite. "Jail was just 30 pages and then Malik goes out," Bidegain said. "We thought he should be in jail the whole time because we liked the irony of a guy who will go out and do crazy things. But he has to come back at 7:00 and bend over [to prove he is not concealing drugs or weapons for guards]. That will create a different kind of gangster!" Most importantly, that "different kind of gangster" would be Arab. And unlike Al Pacino's Tony Montana in Scarface, he would not be a sociopath or a bloodthirsty thug. Audiences would relate to him because Malik wasn't a bad man, per se. More like a cipher. "I wanted it to be the anti-Scarface not because I don't like Brian DePalma's Scarface - I've seen it five times!" Audiard exclaimed. "But there's not much to like about him, and you cannot relate to a character who is all bad."

          A boy transformed

          Crucial to that vision was finding the right person to play Malik - a role that requires a rangy intelligence and abiding naivete as well as a kind of unspoken slyness - someone who must convincingly transform from boy to man over the movie's course. After seeing more than 40 hopefuls, Audiard settled on Rahim, a little-known actor (best known for his appearance in a TV miniseries called La Commune) from the northeast of France born to working-class Algerian parents. But Rahim rejects the go-to comparison that has been attached to his performance since A Prophet premiered in Cannes: with the young Al Pacino in the first Godfather film. "It is too much. People are using comparisons that are not possible," said Rahim, 28. "This guy is a genius. He's changed so much in cinema, and I've made just one movie." Rahim's A Prophet turn has already landed him a Hollywood agent and a role in The Eagle of the Ninth, the upcoming period thriller. Rahim, who like his character emanated a kind of boyish studiousness, heaps credit on Audiard for helping him achieve certain personal breakthroughs on A Prophet. "I grew up on this film. Emotionally. Professionally. In every way," he said.

          Bidegain and Audiard's governing fear during production was misrepresenting and running afoul of mosque-goers. But since the film's release, the filmmakers say the community has given them nothing but positive feedback. And Audiard and Bidegain feel gratified to have put forward a new kind of movie hero at a time when France's reluctance to embrace its multiculturality continues to convulse the country. If anything, Audiard and Bidegain said they hope A Prophet - as well as its all but inevitable sequel - will play some part in quelling the unrest that's become inextricably associated with young people of African and Arab descent in France by giving those communities a different kind of role model. "They are burning cars because that is the only representation of them," Bidegain said. "That's the only way they have to be seen and heard," Audiard said. "We wanted to give them a different voice."

          Comment


          • #6

            Comment


            • #7
              Review by Sandra Hall:


              February 8, 2010 -- Malik El Djebena is only 19 yet his body is a road map scarred with the consequences of its many wrong turns. He has grown up in juvenile institutions and at the opening of A Prophet he's just landed a six-year prison sentence for attacking a policeman. It's been an action-packed adolescence but none of his many battles have helped him work out who he really is. He's not accepted by the prison's Arab population because he's half-Corsican yet he doesn't read or write in French.

              Malik is the creation of French director Jacques Audiard, whose films have long provided a bracingly cynical antidote to the waftiness of much French cinema. He's a full-blooded filmmaker with a strong taste for thrillers, an old-fashioned flair for ensuring that they make sense and an empathy with moral frailty. A Prophet is the latest in a run of films about men and women who do what they gotta do no matter what the law might say. A Self-Made Hero is a wartime story about a habitual liar who reinvents himself as a member of the French Resistance, while The Beat that My Heart Skipped (2005) has as its hero a thug turned aspiring concert pianist, an improbable scenario that is made to work by Audiard's tough-minded tone and a volatile performance by a glowering Romain Duris.

              Malik also has talent, although it takes him a while to realise it. When first penned up, he's a terrified loner who jumps at every sound. Even so, he can summon up fury enough to repulse a sexual advance from Reyeb (Adel Bencherif), an Arab who's in jail waiting to give testimony in a trial involving a member of the Corsican gang. The Corsicans want this particular Arab dead and they fix on Malik as the man to do the job. They order him to accept Reyeb's proposition so as to get close enough to cut his throat.

              Audiard has said that he wanted to avoid the conventional prison film where the hierarchy is arranged according to muscle mass. This prison system is akin to the one in Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas , where incarcerated Mafia bosses take care of their outside businesses by remote control while cosily cooking pasta and drinking red wine. The Corsicans exist in a less cordial atmosphere. Their creature comforts run to coffee, television and cigarettes but their boss, Cesar, is in every other sense a Mafioso. He's played by Niels Arestrup, who's been a craggy stalwart of French cinema since the 1970s, when he worked with Chantal Akerman and Alain Resnais. In this film, he's the only familiar name.


              The film is otherwise populated with screen newcomers - a policy in line with Audiard's belief in anything that helps ground a story in reality. And it's certainly paid off in the case of Tahar Rahim, the young French-Algerian actor who plays Malik. He displays the overwrought alertness of a young man who's stumbled into a minefield. Up to now, it seems, he's relied on his fists to keep afloat. But to survive in this place, where the guards are in the pay of the Corsicans, he's going to have to become acquainted with the previously foreign concepts of strategy and subterfuge. He has many reasons to refuse the job of assassin, starting with the fact that his weapon is to be a razor blade hidden inside his mouth. His bloody attempts to manoeuvre this painful object make him despair. Nonetheless, he persists and his gruesomely messy disposal of Reyeb wins him a place in the prison pecking order as the Corsicans' gofer. From this lowly position he begins his advance as Cesar comes to rely on him more and more. It's hardly a relationship of trust - rather one of mutual exploitation. Nonetheless, it provides him with an education.

              It's a brutally matter-of-fact picture of prison life yet Audiard risks a touch of mysticism in having Reyeb reappear as a companionable ghost who often visits Malik to remind him that he's somehow managed to retain the remnants of a conscience. These reminders are both implicit and dryly humorous, which is why they work in a film so firmly pegged to naturalism. The constrictions of the prison routine are so vividly realised that you feel as if you're actually gulping down the fresh air with Malik when he eventually wangles a day pass and gets to spend a few hours on the coast. I couldn't quite swallow the ending but I can't say that it mattered much. By then, Audiard had eloquently and convincingly pushed home the story's central irony - that Malik had to go to prison to expand his horizons. He may not emerge from the experience as a law-abiding citizen but at the end of his sentence, he undoubtedly knows who he is.





              Comment


              • #8
                Larry Rohter:


                February 19, 2010 -- French cinema has produced some notable gangster characters and crime films over the years. During their long careers Jean-Paul Belmondo, Alain Delon and Jean Gabin portrayed underworld figures with swagger, world-weariness or elegance, and even after 50 years Jacques Becker’s Night Watch still stands as one of the most memorable psychological dramas ever set in a prison. But Jacques Audiard turns many of the conventions of the genre upside down in A Prophet (Un Prophète), which may help explain why the film won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival last year and has been nominated for an Academy Award as best foreign film. Shunning the standard-issue tough-guy protagonist, Mr. Audiard instead offers the story of Malik El Djebena, a meek, illiterate Arab street urchin who manages to survive and prosper in prison through guile and intelligence, not intimidation. “We wanted to make an anti-Scarface,” Mr. Audiard said during an interview in New York last month. “In his film De Palma never proposes that we feel empathy for the character of Tony Montana. As a result the question of good and bad is no longer relevant. I wanted a character who is more ambiguous, so that I can relate to him. The key question is: When do I feel empathy for him, and when do I feel a certain unease or discomfort?”

                The origins of A Prophet, which opens in New York on Friday, date to a visit that Mr. Audiard, 57, made to a video club in a French prison to discuss his previous movie, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, released in 2005. He came away from the visit fascinated by the prison milieu and puzzled by the paucity of French films in that genre. “There was a reservoir of stories there, and we wanted to tell them,” he said. “Our objective was to present actors and faces, those of Arabs and Africans, that you don’t usually see in French cinema, and which had never been seen before in a genre film.” But when Mr. Audiard and his screenwriting partner, Thomas Bidegain, sought to return to the jails and prisons for the purposes of research, they found their way blocked. Months were wasted awaiting even limited access, which convinced them that “we were onto something they don’t want us to see, there must be something there,” Mr. Bidegain said.

                Though France is the birthplace of the modern human-rights movement, its prisons are overcrowded, have a high suicide rate and have been criticized by the Council of Europe as among the worst on the Continent. They also reflect the deep divisions in French society: according to the 2010 C.I.A. World Factbook no more than 10 percent of the country’s population is Muslim, but human-rights and religious groups estimate that Muslims account for about two-thirds of those serving prison sentences. Without access to a jail or prison Mr. Audiard built his own set on the site of an abandoned industrial complex and hired ex-convicts as consultants and for numerous roles, including that of the prison warden. To play Malik, the role that would inevitably determine the film’s success or failure, he chose Tahar Rahim, a young French Muslim actor from an Algerian immigrant family whom he first met on the set of a television series directed by one of Mr. Audiard’s friends.

                “Like Malik I was a blank page,” said Mr. Rahim, who is 28 and had appeared in only a pair of movies before being cast in this one. His process, he said, was aided by close observation of the former convicts. “You take what comes out of the group, what you smell,” he said. “They were really setting a tone.” To provide ballast and menace, Niels Arestrup, the veteran French character actor best known to American audiences for his roles in The Bourne Ultimatum and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, was cast as César Luciani, the ruthless Corsican crime boss who controls the prison and enmeshes Malik in his schemes. “Luciani is an ogre, a father who eats his children,” Mr. Bidegain said. “But Malik is smart, so his objectives are always changing and expanding. In the beginning he is like a wild child who doesn’t know much about his own history and doesn’t have the words to write his own history. But he works and works to become part of the group, even as a servant, and once in that group he tries to get to the top. If he hadn’t gone to prison, he would never have found out that he is smart. Instead he would have been absolutely wasted, killed or OD’d at 22.”

                In the course of the immoral education Mr. Audiard depicts, Malik learns to kill. But he does so reluctantly — only to save his own life — and is literally haunted by the consequences. In a surreal touch that is another break with the usual practices of the genre, the ghost of his first victim occasionally appears to counsel, chide or console him, and he begins to have recurring dreams and visions. Because of the challenges of writing, casting, building and filming, it took nearly five years for A Prophet to be made. “We finished on a Thursday, and on Saturday we showed the film at Cannes,” Mr. Bidegain recalled. “Nobody had seen the film, nobody.” And because of the controversial subject matter the filmmakers headed to the first screening still unsure how the audience would react. “Will they throw rocks or roses?” was the way Mr. Audiard put it. The reaction of both the public and critics was rhapsodic, culminating in a standing ovation when A Prophet won the Grand Prix. “Rich, complex, subtle, under permanent tension, disturbing and generous,” Jacques Mandelbaum wrote in Le Monde. “A Prophet is much more than a prison film: it’s also a narrative of vengeance, a novel of education and a political allegory.” Manohla Dargis of The New York Times praised the film as “pitch-perfect,” adding that it demonstrated “transparent compassion but none of the sentimentalizing that softens and cheapens too many mob stories.”

                Both Mr. Audiard and Mr. Bidegain admit that the title, A Prophet, is ambiguous, with an explanation that emerges only gradually during the film. Mr. Audiard said he originally wanted to call the movie “Gotta Serve Somebody,” after Bob Dylan’s song about having to choose between God and the Devil, “but it’s too difficult to translate into French.” Initially they set about adapting a script then known as The Prophet, most of which took place outside prison and told a more traditional story of the rise of a small-time gangster. But because their protagonist is a Muslim, they felt it necessary to avoid misleading religious associations: “We didn’t want a fatwa” Mr. Audiard said. “He’s a prophet in the sense that he designs a new kind of gangster,” Mr. Bidegain explained. “It’s a very heavy title that implies a lot of questions that may not be necessary in a genre film, but we couldn’t find another title that was as efficient and beautiful.”

                If Malik resembles any character in an American film, it would probably be Michael Corleone of The Godfather, who also did not, at least initially, want to be drawn into the gangster life. But Mr. Audiard, while acknowledging that American filmmakers have traditionally dominated the prison genre, expressed disappointment with the current Hollywood trend toward violence for its own sake. “For Thomas and me, our love of film has really been fulfilled during the last four or five years by Swedish, Korean and Italian movies and not that many American ones,” Mr. Audiard said. “When Scorsese and Coppola did their films in the 1970s, they were using a lot of things from Italian neo-realism. But things go back and forth, and it’s in Europe that movies like Gomorrah or The Pusher trilogy or A Prophet are taking that genre and putting it in the here and now.”

                Mr. Bidegain said friends have been predicting that Hollywood will soon come calling, wanting to buy the rights to film a remake of A Prophet. That, he said, is impossible: “Maybe in the era of Mean Streets, but if there is a film that cannot be made here in America, it is this one, which has the casting of an indie film and the budget and distribution of a more important one.” The sequel that French critics and audiences have been clamoring for, on the other hand, has not been ruled out. “Perhaps, perhaps,” Mr. Audiard said. “I don’t know.” Mr. Bidegain added: “It’s true that another story begins at the very end of the film. The last image is that he’s now amongst us, that he could be seated next to you. So maybe we unconsciously left our hero in a place where we could do that.”

                Comment


                • #9

                  February 28, 2010 -- France has a strong contender for this year's Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film if last night's César awards are any guide. Jacques Audiard's Un Prophète swept the floor, with nine of the French industry's awards, including best film, best director and best actor for Tahar Rahim, its star. Unlike some French films, Un Prophète, second prize-winner at the Cannes festival and nominated for the Oscar, has universal appeal. It's a realistic,gruelling drama about a French-Arab youth called Malik who is turned by prison into a mobster. American critics have showered it with praise, comparing it to Scarface and the Godfather. The Wall Street Journal called it 'the most American movie of the year'. Manohla Dargis of The New York Times described it as "a sensational prison film and moral history ... a story of one person that eventually becomes a story of an entire world ordered by violence". Rahim, 28, a Franco-Algerian who was hitherto relatively unknown,was the hero of the night at the théâtre du Châtelet. As well as best actor, he won the César for best male newcomer. He also made a good pun accepting his second award. "Vous avez déjà vu un Beur fondre?". (Beur is slang for a young French Arab, so it means 'Have you ever seen a butter/Arab melt?)

                  The tough ethnic banlieue is also the setting for the second most talked-about award from last night. Isabelle Adjani (who is part Beur herself) won best actress for La Journée de la Jupe (Skirt Day). That's the film about a depressed teacher who takes her class hostage after they ridicule her for wearing a skirt . Adjani, 54 has made few films lately and she is no longer slim, but she is still the queen of French movie stars. She broke down in tears receiving her fifth best actress - the first since her Reine Margot in 1995 (female actors are still actresses in France, by the way).

                  Otherwise the "French Oscars", presided over by Marion Cotillard, was the usual festival of self-congratulation. There were rambling, teary speeches, embarrassing jokes and declarations of showbiz "solidarity" with undocumented immigrants. Harrison Ford appeared to be in low spirits when he collected a life-time achievement César. Kyle Eastwood collected the Best Foreign Film for his father's Gran Torino. Sigourney Weaver made an admirable appearance speaking French and Laetitia Casta raised eyebrows in a completely transparent number from Yves Saint-Laurent's 1968 collection. Le Concert, the excellent comedy about a Moscow orchestra loose in Paris, won only two Césars, for best music and best sound. If France wins the foreign language Oscar in Hollywood next Sunday,it will pull into equal first place with Italy, which has won the category 10 times in the 53 years that they have been awarded.

                  Comment


                  • #10

                    Lundi 1 Mars 2010 -- La 35e cérémonie des césars a vu la consécration du film choc de Jacques Audiard, qui a remporté neuf trophées. Le césar de meilleur acteur est décerné à un comédien d’origine algérienne, Tahar Rahim. C’est avec humour et talent que les maîtres de cérémonie Valérie Lemercier et Gad Elmaleh ont orchestré cette 35e cérémonie des césars durant laquelle Un prophète de Jacques Audiard a confirmé son statut de grand favori en remportant neuf des vingt césars décernés.

                    Sans surprise, le film choc de Jacques Audiard, Un prophète, a remporté neuf césars dont celui du meilleur film. Tahar Rahim a notamment décroché le césar du meilleur acteur et celui du meilleur espoir masculin. Une double récompense inédite. Inconnu il y a encore peu, Tahar Rahim, césar du meilleur acteur et du meilleur espoir masculin à 28 ans, a enflammé la critique en incarnant un jeune orphelin qui apprend à survivre dans la violence de l’univers carcéral dans Un prophète. Avant cette interprétation tendue et tout en finesse d’un garçon devenu malfrat presque sans le vouloir, il avait été repéré par Jacques Audiard dans la série la Commune, diffusée fin 2007. Créée par Abdel Raouf Dafri, également scénariste dudit film récompensé, la Commune narre la vie de «la cité qui détient tous les records en matière de chômage, trafic de stupéfiants et criminalité». Une bonne préparation pour le film noir d’Audiard, où cet acteur aux airs juvéniles a stupéfié dans son rôle de délinquant à la brutalité mâtinée d’innocence.

                    «Jacques est venu à une projection des trois premiers épisodes, on s’est parlé juste après, et quelque temps plus tard, j’ai passé des essais», a raconté le discret Tahar Rahim au dernier Festival de Cannes où il avait frôlé le prix d’interprétation. «Ces essais ont duré trois mois, ça a été très long, très éprouvant. Il fallait que je sois capable de le mettre en confiance, et lui s’est éclaté à mettre les doigts dans la matière, à chercher. On a beaucoup discuté tous les deux, Jacques et moi», évoquant aussi un long travail de préparation, basé sur le visionnage de fictions et de documentaires, ainsi que des entretiens avec des détenus. «Il arrive toujours à ce qu’il veut, et plus encore. Une fois il m’a fait faire une trentaine de prises de la même scène, je suis devenu fou mais on n’avait pas le truc, et au final on l’a eu.»

                    Né le 4 juillet 1981 à Belfort où il a grandi dans une famille nombreuse d’origine algérienne, il a passé son baccalauréat avant de «perdre deux ans en fac de sport et de maths-informatique», raconte-t-il. Changement de cap en 2002, quand Tahar, qui rêvait d’être acteur depuis l’adolescence, s’inscrit en cinéma à l’université de Montpellier. Sa licence en poche trois ans plus tard, il s’installe à Paris, prend des cours de comédie et joue dans un documentaire-fiction inspiré de sa propre vie : Tahar l’étudiant, réalisé par Cyril Mennegun, À Cannes, Tahar Rahim ne tarissait pas d’éloges sur son partenaire de jeu dans Un prophète, le comédien Niels Arestrup, nommé pour le césar du meilleur acteur dans un second rôle, qui incarne un malfrat corse. De ses deux parrains de cinéma, Audiard et Arestrup, il dit avoir tiré une leçon d’humilité : «Quand on ne connaît rien au métier, qu’on ne connaît pas ce monde-là, on arrive et on voit des gens qui doutent comme vous et qui s’exercent tout le temps.»

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Ce gars est une pure merveille, il joue comme s'il avait été dans le métier depuis 20 ans. Il est d'une justesse et d'une finesse rares !
                      J'ai vu l'une de ses interviews hier, il s'exprime avec talent sur le cinéma ...il n'a pas de problèmes de vocabulaire ni d'idées, lui. Cela change un peu de Sami Naceri and co.

                      Comment

                      Unconfigured Ad Widget

                      Collapse
                      Working...
                      X