Monday, October 07, 2013

Un Prophète

2009, France, directed by Jacques Audiard

Audiard has never lack ambition -- after getting his directorial feet wet with the retrospectively fairly straightforward character study/thriller Regarde les hommes tomber he quickly took on the Occupation period with Un Héros très discret -- but this still feels more expansive than most of his previous work, partly because of the ample running time and more especially for the attempt to create a comprehensive picture of the criminal underworld, in and outside prison. Indeed, Audiard somehow manages to squeeze a storyline similar to that of an entire season of the French crime drama Engrenages into 150 minutes, compressing time without compromising our understanding of the central character's ambitious progress up the criminal food chain.

As a portrait of the prison world, it's dispiriting at best: no re-education here, except in the intricacies of criminal methods and leadership, and there are fascinating insights into the creative ways to turn guards and other prison personnel in order to effect special privileges or introduce a variety of contraband. The final shot makes abundantly clear just what we've been watching, and perhaps best exemplifies the central character's Godfather-esque self-image as an essentially benevolent family man presiding over an empire of great financial and physical power -- self-deception being a critical component of such a rise through the ranks, not least in order to deal with some of the more extreme choices he has made.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States