A Prophet (2009) – Movie Review

A Prophet is a great film that peers into the ethnic rivalries in the modern day French underworld.

Arts / , ,

21 January 2011


Rating Graphic

A Prophet (2009) Screen Cap

A Prophet (2009) is not only an entertaining crime and punishment movie, but also provides cultural clues into some of modern France’s ethnic and social divides.

The film follows the life of Malik El Djebena, a mixed race (French / Arab) criminal who enters adult prison after a life spent in and out of juvenile detention. Like any prison, inmates prey upon the young and weak, and in Malik’s case, he becomes the target of a Corsican mafia gang that has its grips not only on the yard, but on the guards and prison leadership. For protection, Malik must carry out an assassination. He does so and gains entrance into the Corsican mob inner circle – despite and because of his questionable ethnic status.

What was most interesting to me was the depiction of French prison life – very different from the penitentiary life displayed on U.S. cable television through shows like MSNBC’s Lockup Raw. One thing that didn’t look too bad at all was that inmates each are provided with what appeared to be fresh baked baguettes each and every day. No too shabby. Another area that prison life differed was in how inmates were able to go on leave from 7AM to 7PM in an effort to help them prepare for life after incarceration. Maybe that goes on in the U.S. penal system, but I doubt it.

Another intriguing component to the film is in how it sheds light on Corsican independence movements. I was not aware that there is a long history of political secessionism in Corsica, that there was a unique Corsican language (appeared close to Italian), or that many Corsicans resent French rule. It seems as though the French have attempted to make Corsica a tourist enclave and have not provided sufficient investment into basic industrial institutions and infrastructure.

The last item that I found interesting was the sharp Arab / Non-Arab divide in France. I am aware of the Hijab controversy and recent Parisian riots in mainly ethnic Arab enclaves, but wasn’t aware of how entrenched the Arab, North African and Near-East cultures / religion had become within modern France. It seemed to me similar to how the U.S. is changing with Latino culture and populations. That would be a nice study.

In addition to these cultural take-aways, the film is gritty, suspenseful, and very well shot. Malik makes all the right plays and triumphs in the end. I ended up really pulling for the guy. I enjoyed it a lot.


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