By Eric Snider -- reprinted from 2/18/10 -- Portland Film Festival
In A Prophet (Un prophète), Malik El Djebena is a 19-year-old semi-delinquent who has just been sentenced to six years in prison for assaulting a police officer, an offense he vehemently denies at first, until he realizes no one cares whether he did it or not. Malik enters the prison nervous, quiet, scared, his eyes conveying his fear. When the film ends, 2 1/2 hours later, that fear is gone.
Directed by the highly regarded French filmmaker Jacques Audiard (Read My Lips, The Beat That My Heart Skipped), A Prophet might have been just another movie about what prison does to a person, were it not for the elements suggested by the title. Malik has what you might call a religious awakening while he's incarcerated -- not uncommon in itself, but Malik's prophetic calling takes it a bit further.
Born in Morocco, Malik (played by Tahar Rahim) speaks French and Arabic. He's not a practicing Muslim, but his Arab ethnicity leads people to assume otherwise, and he can pass between Muslim and non-Muslim groups in the prison. He doesn't completely belong in either society, though, until he is claimed by the Corsicans.