Note: This is a review of a current release, not a "Movie Classic" like my last film article. I'm trying to keep boundaries here! The Jack Sack Movie Classics will return soon.
If you're familiar with television series THE WIRE, then you'll understand how this movie treats its characters. There are no Hollywood contrivances or "outs" here, this is a movie meant to immerse you in uncertainty and danger. On its surface, prison is a chaotic environment, but if you dig deeper you discover a very ordered society. Malik is our guide through this world- each new thing he learns is a revelation to us as well. The story shows how Malik adapts to each new realization about his surroundings. We also see that he is a fast learner and a shrewd problem-solver. Despite the confines of prison, he has a full, rich life unfolding throughout the film.
Audiard, who has made some notable French movies (among them READ MY LIPS and THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED), will definitely be making films in Hollywood in the near future is he so desires. His eye for details is the most impressive quality to his films. Have you ever sat in a room, listening to someone talking and had your eyes wander about, lingering on random things like a coffee mug or a box of cereal? That's what Audiard's camera pulls off without you even thinking about it. He places you in the movie- without the aid of James Cameron's beloved 3-D tech (the cinematic version of Viagra if there ever was one). In film school-speak, Audiard is a master of cinema-vérité.
For someone that loves movies, I admit to having a blind spot towards French films up until recently. Yes, it's tiresome and distracting to read subtitles for two hours. And there's also that cultural divide that pops up from time to time. But I'm glad I broke down and started chasing down these films. I am completely impressed by the style, grit and economical storytelling of French filmmakers. They're carrying on the great tradition of 1970s cinema, when America was making films like THE FRENCH CONNECTION, SERPICO, and MEAN STREETS. I'm not sure why we don't make those kinds of movies anymore- but whatever the reason, it's kind of frustrating. American life is no less real than what's taking place in Marseilles or Mexico City. There are worthwhile stories here that are not being told through our movies. Maybe we need someone like Audiard to make a large impact here, to kick us in the ass and start thinking about these things.
In the meantime, A PROPHET is a completely engrossing journey, a saga about a simple boy who reveals himself to be a complicated man. It's playing in theaters now, and will probably be available on video within months.