Even before January was over, critics were already touting this as the film of the year, and it is doubtful that you will see a better one this term. Malik (Rahim) is a 19-year-old French Arab who is trying to get through his six years of jail time by keeping his head down and trying to avoid making enemies. However, he is unwillingly drawn under the authority of Corsican leader César (Arestrup) who sees Malik’s ethnicity as making him the perfect accessory for furthering his own interests. Malik is completely uneducated but keenly intelligent, and he develops a strong understanding of how to ensure his survival inside the prison by managing his allegiances with other inmates.
It is a testament to this film that, despite the hefty running time, it does not feel a minute overlong. Instead, the sprawling, textured narrative takes us on a journey that has no clear conclusions. The expansive structure is fitting for a story that reflects not only French culture but also modern society as a whole, exploring how the issues and complexities of our post-9/11 world are being navigated in this new decade.
Director Jacques Audiard (The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Read My Lips) offers an unrelenting, visceral portrayal of prison life, expertly taking on the complex themes of language, loyalty and identity. We see not only the grim realism of prison life but also Malik’s inner state of mind. His hallucinations and flights of fancy delicately highlight how Malik’s gradual mental breakdown is at odds with his outer resilience. Melding together the political and the personal, this is an assured modern classic.
Screenings of this film:
|2009/2010 Summer Term – (35mm)|