Un Prophète (A Prophet), is a French crime-drama film, from 2009, directed by Jacques Audiard. It tells the story of Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim), a young French-Arab, who is sentenced to six years in prison for attacking police officers. The film follows Malik’s journey as he navigates the brutal and complex world of prison life.
Initially, Malik is a vulnerable and naive prisoner, and he becomes a target for various factions within the prison. However, he soon catches the attention of Corsican mob boss César Luciani (Niels Arestrup), who offers him protection in exchange for carrying out tasks for him.
As Malik starts to gain power and influence within the prison, he becomes entangled in a web of alliances, rivalries, and violence. Through his interactions with different groups, including the Corsicans, Muslims, and other prisoners, Malik learns to survive and adapt to his surroundings.
The movie delves into themes of power, corruption, identity, and the struggle for survival. It explores Malik’s transformation from a vulnerable individual to a calculating and influential figure in the prison hierarchy.
Audiard and the film’s screenwriter, Thomas Bidegain, came together, to develop the script and create a story that would authentically depict the harsh realities of prison life and explore the complexities of the main character, Malik (Tahar Rahim).
Audiard encouraged improvisation and allowed the actors to bring their own interpretations to the roles, fostering a sense of realism in the performances.
To prepare for his leadrole, Rahim conducted research on prison life and the experiences of inmates. He visited real prisons and interacted with former prisoners to gain firsthand knowledge of the environment, the challenges, and the psychological impact of incarceration. This research helped him understand the nuances of prison dynamics and inform his portrayal of Malik.
Rahim also underwent a physical transformation for the role. He lost weight and worked with a nutritionist to achieve a lean and emaciated appearance that accurately reflected Malik’s difficult life in prison. The physical transformation added to the realism of the character and helped Rahim fully inhabit Malik’s physicality.
In terms of cinematography, Audiard and cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine, appliedhandheld camera work for dynamic and fluid movements, following the characters closely, creating a sense of urgency, which contributed to the film’s realistic depiction of prison life, making the audience feel as if they are witnessing events unfold firsthand. They also used naturalistic lighting, such as fluorescent lights or windows, emphasizing the harsh and stark environment of the prison, enhancing the contrast between light and shadow, further accentuating the oppressive and claustrophobic atmosphere.
Un Prophéte has won numerous awards, including the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. Over the years, Un Prophète, has influenced films and filmmakers around the world, and helped raise the profile of French cinema internationally. It showcased the talent of Jacques Audiard and introduced actor Tahar Rahim to a global audience. The films critical acclaim and accolades solidified its place as one of the most influential and significant French films of recent years.