France's answer to The Godfather - a review of film festival's The Prophet
By Meghan O'Sullivan '14
Published: Thursday, October 4, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 4, 2012 20:10
The second week of the Tournees French Film Festival featured The Prophet, a film joint-sponsored by the Language and History Departments.
The Prophet, directed by Jacques Audiard and released in 2009, is 150 minutes and uses subtitles. It follows the journey of Malik El Djebena, a teenaged boy in France sentenced to six years in prison for attacking a police officer, and has been likened to the Godfather by numerous critics.
The movie opens with choppy filming from the perspective of someone in a prison cell, staring at prison guards from behind a chain-linked fence. This ominous beginning set an appropriate tone for the rest of the somber film—when Djebena enters prison he is illiterate, broke, friendless and without hope.
His fortune does not improve as the Corsican prison gang instructs him to murder another Muslim prisoner. The scenes in this film were sometimes difficult to watch, like when Djebena gouges the inside of his mouth while trying to hide a blade.
After the murder Djebena begins working for the Corsican gang, but his Arab descent leaves himself stranded in the middle of prison racial tensions between the Muslims and the Corsicans. However, he is able to slowly gain prestige within the prison by becoming a spy for the Corsican Godfather César Lucian. Djebena takes control of the drug black market and receives special privileges from the guards due to his connections.
The movie soundtrack becomes upbeat and cheerful as Djebena gradually develops his new powerful status among the other inmates. As Corsicans begin transferring out of the prison and Lucian allows him too much freedom, Djebena overthrows his rule and becomes the new prison Godfather heading the Muslim gang.
While watching Djebena become educated, influential and self-assured during his time in prison is strangely inspiring, it also becomes apparent at the end of the film that the unlucky young boy from the wrong side of the tracks is now a cold-blooded murderer.
The film has an unexpected ability to paint these men in a sympathetic light. As cruel as Lucian is during his rule of the prison, he also appears rather pitiful when his empire crumbles and he is left friendless. The final scene of Djebena walking away from the prison with his godson and a caravan of bodyguards is as optimistic an ending as viewers could expect.
The underlying theme of the plot that extends beyond the fictional life of Djebena and portrays harsh conditions of French prisons, which have received international scrutiny in the past.