If there is one thing I have appreciated about Jacques Audiard's work, you know you're in for a cinematic treat. I enjoyed his 1999 film "Venus Beauty Institute" (Vénus beauté institut), his 2001 film "Read My Lips" (Sur mes lèvres) and repeated his success with his 2005 film "The Beat That My Heart Skipped" (De battre mon coeur s'est arrêté) and in 2009, Audiard returned with "Un prophète" (A Prophet) which is based on the original screenplay by Abdel Raouf Dafri and Nicolas Peufaillit and rewritten by Audiard and Thomas Bidegain.
The film would receive critical praise and would go on to receive an Academy Award nomination in 2009, a winner of the 2009 Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix , won "Best Picture of the Year" at the London Film Festival and would join two films in the history of the César Awards by being nominated for 13 awards and the third film in French cinema history to win 9 or more César awards (the last two films was the 1980 film "The Last Metro" and the 1990 film "Cyrano de Bergerac").
"A Prophet" is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1 aspect ratio). I've commented with nearly every Sony Blu-ray release of how these last two years have been fantastic in terms of overall presentation and quality. The picture quality for "A Prophet" is absolutely wonderful. You can see the detail of the grime around the prison, the weaves of fabric on the clothing, the scratches, cuts, wrinkles and skin pigmentation in HD and a color pallet that is full of detail and depending on the scene, great use of colors to showcase the cold prison life to the vibrant outdoor (and out of prison) scenes.
There is a fine layer of grain throughout the film and blacks are nice and deep. Overall, a magnificent presentation from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment with no signs of artifacting, edge enhancement or any other negative anomalies.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
"A Prophet" is presented in French and German 5.1 DTS-HD MA. Although the film is primarily dialogue driven and thus sound coming from the front and center channels, you do hear the prison ambiance through the surrounds. For example, when Malik is working at the sewing shop, you can hear the machines through the surrounds. And you also get good use of the surrounds during the more action driven sequences such as the shooting scenes or a person being kicked and beaten.
The film also utilizes music such as its primary score courtesy of Alexandre Desplat ("The Twilight Saga: New Moon", "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button", "Lust Caution", "The Valet", etc.). Desplate does a wonderful job with the score in developing the overall somber mood of the film. Also, the film utilizes modern hip hop and rock tracks which is deep with bass and quite clear through the front channels.
Subtitles are presented in English, English SDH, French, German and Turkish.
"A Prophet" comes with the following special features (in standard definition, French stereo and with English and German subtitles):
* Commentary with Director Jacques Audiard, Actor Tahar Rahim and Co-Writer Thomas Bidegain - An audio commentary track which gives you really good insight of the film, working with the various cast members, the technical issues of filming in a prison and more.
* Deleted Scenes - (10:34) The film comes with four deleted scenes.
* Tahar Rahim & Adel Bencherif Rehearsal Footage - (1:05) Tahar Rahim (Malik) and Adel Bencherif (Sayad) rehearsing.
* Tahar Rahim & Gilles Cohen Rehearsal Footage #1 - (4:49) The first Tahar Rahim (Malik) and Gilles Cohen (Prof) rehearsal.
* Tahar Rahim & Gilles Cohen Rehearsal Footage #2 - (3:07) The second Tahar Rahim (Malik) and Gilles Cohen (Prof) rehearsal.
* Screen Tests - (5:00) Featuring five screen tests for Tahar Rahim (Malik).
* Theatrical Trailer - (2:02) The original theatrical trailer for "A Prophet".
* BD-Live Enabled - Register your disc with Sony for their awards points or preview upcoming Sony Blu-ray releases.
"A Prophet" is a film that is a fantastic film that is well-written, well-directed and more than anything, both Tahar Rahim and Niels Arestrup do a wonderful job with their role. Perfectly time interaction and the film while long at 155 minutes, was well-written and helped develop the characters, especially Malik's journey as the quiet prisoner to seeing him evolve into something quite different.
Needless to say, "A Prophet" is a survival film. Malik does all he can to survive within the next six years and that is by remaining close to the Corsican mafia (who treat him like a dog because he's Arabic) while trying to keep his reputation cool among the Arabs. If anything, we learn first hand of how difficult it is for Malik as he must obey Luciani in order to survive the corrupted prison system but also making sure to maintain communication with other people in prison to ensure the success of his business and also helping those who are with him.
With that being said, the film does have its share of violent moments and for the faint-hearted, especially for those who don't like seeing blood, this film does have a very bloody scene. One scene has Malik being trained by the Corsican mafia on how he is to kill Reyeb. In the scene, Malik is to pretend he is about to give Reyeb oral but with a blade hidden in his mouth, Malik has to slice the carotid artery on Reyeb's neck. Let's just say that things get bloody in this scene.Other scenes feature Malik being kicked in the ground, punched, nearly eye gouged.
But these scenes are necessary to show how a man can change in prison and it has a psychological toll on Malik as he begins to see the man he has killed in his room and begins to have a conversation with him. May it be guilt and this man haunts Malik's inner conscience but the truth is, while in prison and with no one to trust but his one friend Ryad (played by Adel Bencherif), all Malik has is this ghost of Reyeb. Possibly to remind him of his innocence that was stripped away by the Corsican mafia. We see how this man go from this silent loner, we see him evolve to a new kind of man and everything plays out quite wonderfully at the end.
There have been a good number of well-created prison films in the past 50 years such as "Grand Illusion", "The Shawshank Redemption", "Le Trou", "Stalag 17', etc. With most dealing with prison escapees to police or someone disguising themselves as prisoners trying to obtain information from a criminal. And while survival in prison has been featured in a variety of films, "A Prophet" is probably the first film in which a writer and director has attempted (and in this case succeeding) in depicting one man's survival while being in the most corrupted and dangerous place to be. Having to lean on those who want to use you, corrupt you and rob you of your innocence and thus changing you in the process.
This is one grueling journey for the protagonist and at 155-minutes, it's definitely a film that requires one's patience. As for its title, "A Prophet" comes from one of the crime bosses in which Malik has to meet (which Luciani has arranged with his people in the outside). Malik has a dream the night before about driving and seeing a lot of deer and a deer sign and sure enough, while in the car with the crime boss, he quickly remembers the deer by seeing the deer sign and warns the people in the car that they are about to get into an accident. The car manages to hit only one but Malik's warning enables him to save the lives of the criminals, the crime boss asks Malik how he knew those deer were coming and if he is some kind of prophet.
The title has nothing to do with Malik having dreams that come true (with the exception of the deer incident) but more or less, a man who learns the hard way of survival from a top mafia boss and learns about the shady practices of well-connected criminals in the prison system and eventually utilizing the things he has learned and making the best out of it.
Although the film has received mostly positive reviews, there are some who challenge the film's plot of Malik being able to leave the prison system for "leave days" which are given to low-incident criminals. With Luciani's connection with the warden and the outside, Luciani depends on Malik handling some business for him while on his leave day.
Donald Levit of "ReelTalk Movie Reviews" writes, "Malik may have a plan or may wing it, but too many things fly too fast and furiously -- a first, seconds-long airplane ride (nicely done); a mosque and imam, cached kilos and Egyptians; a highway deer-crossing sign and an outdoor beach restaurant lunch; an increasing Muslim prison population and transfers or releases for fifteen of the twenty Corsicans; a bafflingly complicated and carried out Mace attack and van rub out."
Levit does have a point but I believe that is why the duration of the film was long. Director and writer Jacques Audiard and co-writer Thomas Bidegain wanted to show how powerful the Corsican mafia boss César Luciani truly is. We see this man having access to the best cell, television, food, clothing and even having access to a hidden cell phone. We know that the warden has been aiding Luciani and of course, whenever someone from the outside is meeting with him, he is literally conducting business and uses Malik and his weakness and fear in doing these jobs (which can easily get himself killed). But Luciani is well-connected and is able to make things happen for Malik in the outside world.
A lot of things do happen in the second half of the film and I can see where Donald Levit is coming from with his assessment of the scenarios. He also comments on the many players in the film. And yes, there are many players in the prison system that Malik has to interact with in the film. But in the end, all that matters is Malik's business relationship with Luciani and his business relationship and friendship with Ryad.
As for the Blu-ray release, this is a solid release from Sony Pictures Classics. The picture quality is fantastic and although audio-wise, this is not a film that utilizes the surround channel in full-effect and is primarily dialogue-driven, you do get a good number of special features. The deleted scenes offers more insight to the film that can easily be added to the film and would make sense but in terms of pacing and duration time, at 155-minutes, I think by adding these scenes may be a bit overkill for viewers.
I suppose if I had to be nitpicky and what prevents this Blu-ray release from receiving a 5-star is that I was hoping to see some sort of featurette of the making of the film. Sony Pictures Classics definitely set the ladder high with their Blu-ray release of "The White Ribbon" with its number of awesome and lengthy special features. For "A Prophet", the screen tests and rehearsals were fine but for a film of this caliber, it would have bee nice to see a featurette on the making of this film or clips from the César Awards where it the film would become the first in nearly three decades to win nine César awards (and nominated for 13). But again, that's me being nitpicky.
Overall, "A Prophet" is a magnificent film and I hope it will encourage many cinema fans who are not familiar with Jacques Audiard's films to go out and search his previous films. In the case of "A Prophet", definitely compelling cinema that is thought-provoking, raw and violent but easily another well-crafted masterpiece from Jacques Audiard.