11 November 2009
UN PROPHETE / A PROPHET (Dir. Jacques Audiard, 2009, France) – Iconic Ascension
The systematic failure of the neo liberal and embarrassingly transparent French establishment to offer an inclusive policy of constructive social integration has fashioned an absence of mythological imagery for the French Arab youth. All cultures and social groups should unhesitatingly draw from a shared mythology but if one cannot relate to such myths then a natural resentment lingers that inevitably leads to a poisonous alienation. Kassovitz’s activist polemic refused to gloss over such cracks in the fabric of society and the political resistance of a film like ‘La Haine’ invoked a fiercely sentimental radicalism denied to such disaffected youth. Audiard’s compelling prison melodrama is comparable to Garrone’s ‘Gomorrah’; both elucidate a primitive masculinity that demands a voyeuristic gaze and wider sociological problematic – ownership is what makes those on the periphery dominant masters of human exploitation. In the context of Audiard’s ascension narrative, the voracious metamorphosis of the slave to the master in the prison system produces a quasi-religious ‘prophet’.
The harsh nondescript concrete walls, cold steel edges and fake plastic furniture are familiar iconographic elements of the prison genre yet their inclusion reminds us of a disparaging mise en scene recognisable in most facets of daily life including the workplace and even home. Prison as a microcosm of racial and class inequity suffocates Malik (Tahar Rahim), subjecting him to a litany of brutal masochistic rituals but the internal strength he draws from his constant humiliation creates an indifference in terms of his political position. The metaphysical dimension surfaces in the most benign of feral imagery, the deer; hurtling through the dreams of Malik whilst smashing across the windscreen as a reminder of the sincere, magnified abstractions generated by art cinema. Intellectually scored by Alexandre Desplat and anchored by what is a marvellous ensemble of unsentimental performances, Audiard’s fifth film as a director attests to his unrivalled status as one of the pre-eminent European auteurs at work today.