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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton


   A Prophet


Director Jacques Audiard (2009)


When the shark bites with his teeth, dear
Scarlet billows start to spread.
Fancy gloves, though, wears Macheath, dear
So there's not a trace of red.

A quaintly lilting version of Brecht and Wiell’s Mack the Knife performed, incongruously, by country singer Jimmie Dale Gilmore, plays over the final scene of A Prophet. Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim), a young, rootless Arab tearaway, is leaving prison after serving his sentence and seems to be returning to normal life, complete with a ready-made wife and kid provided by his best mate. But a mysterious black cortege follows funereally, ominously, in his wake.

We meet Malik six years earlier on his first day in jail. He is proud, sullen, rebellious and naïve – if not entirely innocent. For his own ‘protection’ he is drawn into the Corsican gang which, in cahoots with bent screws, runs the prison. His protection comes at an overwhelming cost: he must murder a fellow muslim inmate.

Malik resists, but it is futile. He practises hiding the razor blade he must use for a murder weapon behind his teeth. He spits out the blood. You can feel his pain.

His victim, Reyeb (Hichem Yacoubi), turns out to be a decent educated chap and he has a profound effect on the reluctant killer, but he is clumsily and bloodily sent packing.

Having somehow passed the test, Malik finds himself right hand henchman to gang leader Cesar Luciani (Niels Arestrup), a kind of malicious, sadistic type of the Noel Coward character in The Italian Job.

Throughout, Malik insists that he works only for himself, and like all freelances this means he works for anybody and everybody, straddling all the power bases.

He’s a survivor all right. But by the end of his brutal education he has become something more, graduated into the natural, if not born, killer he so agonisingly tried not to be. As he walks through the prison gates he turns the world inside, out. He wears the gloves of the guilt-free, ready to kill again, with not a trace of red.


January 2, 2010

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