12 April 2010

Un prophète (A Prophet) *

When did all the best crime movies start coming out of Europe? It seems like a genre built for America, with its history of noir and gangsters, but our output has been pretty watered down lately, seems like. The Departed is an okay Hollywood drama, but doesn't have the kick of Goodfellas or The Godfather. Collateral was good, but Public Enemies wasn't. Seems like we're caught up in overexamining character here, letting go of classic rise-and-fall or dethroning-a-king style stories like Gomorrah (still to be watched) and A Prophet. Here characterization happens incidentally, and often obscurely. To quote Ebert, "Many movies and actors are too ready to inform us what everyone is thinking, and why. It's more absorbing for us to read significance from mystery. An actor who reveals nothing, like Alain Delon in Melville's Le Samourai, is fascinating."

What stuck with me most from this was the constant use of visual metaphor to deepen an already rich story. From images on César's television to planes flying overhead to the (English) lyrics of soundtrack songs, everything was a way of expressing different layers of what the characters were thinking, or where they were in their journeys. A Prophet is one part The Godfather, one part Hammett's Red Harvest (see: Yojimbo, A Fistful of Dollars, Miller's Crossing, Last Man Standing), one part treatise on Arabs in France, and a dash of call for prison system reform. But it's also an exciting story that doesn't pull its punches. It's mean and exciting and layered.

Seen at the Fox Tower.

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