French prison thriller hailed in Cannes

Sat May 16, 2009 9:47am EDT
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By James Mackenzie

CANNES, France (Reuters) - French director Jacques Audiard was hailed at the Cannes film festival on Saturday for his grittily realistic prison thriller "A Prophet."

The film shows the gradual rise of a young prisoner and gives an unsparing picture of life in the rundown French jail system, whose bad conditions have prompted a wave of protests by jail staff in recent weeks.

However, Audiard, whose previous films include "De battre mon coeur s'est arrete" (The Beat my Heart Skipped) said his intent had been to make a thriller, not a social documentary or an attack the prison system.

"What interested me was taking a prison as a metaphor for society," he told a press conference after the film's loudly applauded first screening at Cannes.

"But I wasn't interested in denouncing anything, that would have taken me somewhere else. I really wanted to make a genre film with actors that weren't known," he said.

"Something like 'Liberty Valence' without John Wayne."

"A Prophet," the first French entry to show in this year's competition, tells the story of Malik El Djebena, a homeless and illiterate 19-year-old at the mercy of a Corsican gang that controls the jail where he is imprisoned.

Switching between French, Corsican dialect and Arabic, the film follows Malik, played by newcomer Tahar Rahim as he manipulates a power struggle between the old-school Corsican gang and increasingly assertive Muslim rivals.   Continued...

<p>Director Jacques Audiard (C) poses with cast members Niels Arestrup and Tahar Rahim during a photocall for the film "Un Prophete" at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival May 16, 2009. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler</p>