Engaging characters with an interesting insight into French prison.
Malik (Tahar Rahim) is no longer a juvenile criminal and has to fend for himself when he is transferred to an adult prison. Cesar (Niels Arestrup) sensing his vulnerability, uses him to kill Reyeb (Hichem Yacoubi). From then on Malik is known as the Corsican’s servant, and learns how to navigate the prison while doing jobs for Cesar. Having no real identity, he teams up with the Arabs in the prison including of Ryad (Adel Bencherif), who is his main contact on the outside to help start a drug trade. When Cesar finds out that Malik has been running his own thing, he punishes him. Directed by Jacques Audiard.
Malik is portrayed as a pretty innocent character throughout the film, even as he is climbing up the ladder and becoming (ironically) more of a criminal in prison. Rahim plays him well, and perhaps it is because the character is used to acting subservient so that he holds this poker type face as a reflex. Ultimately making others underestimate him and he is able to use that to his advantage. Reyeb was a pretty haunting character seeing as he was Malik’s ‘spirit’ hallucination. Yacoubi also doesn’t play his character with much emotion, but this makes more sense since his character is supposed to be dead.
The story is like an American hood film with the protagonist growing up to be like his master, but in the context of a prison. A French prison to be more exact. I don’t think this film is meant to portray a correct representation of French disciplinary institutions, but it definitely depicts a unique system. The prison guards are corrupt, prisoners wear casual clothes, and seemingly walk around wherever they want -with Malik even getting multiple furloughs. What’s more, the cells look very similar to that of a college dorm with a table, mini-fridge and whatever else.
The violence in this film is very explicit and gruesome. There isn’t a lot of fighting, but more of gun violence and of course the scene where Malik kills Reyeb. Quite gory stuff. Also, homosexuality is strongly dismissed, as is common in most gangster films as part of ‘masculinity’. On that note, there are only two female characters in this film who appear quite briefly. One to satisfy Malik’s sexual needs, and another the wife of Reyeb (also seen as a mother because they have a child). This contrast of the whore and mother figure in films with emphasis on masculinity is getting tiring. Having females in these roles depicts that they are owned by men and have no other purpose but to serve them.
Overall a thoughtful film that shows how having no identity could act in favour of a character. Malik is not seen as a very violent person (though he does kill), and instead uses his interpersonal skills and brains to get his success. The film does stall quite a bit in the middle, and I feel that it could have been cut shorter without it affecting the film.
PROS: Acting, prison setting
CONS: Portrayal of females and homosexuality, stalls in middle
I give this a 7/10.
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