Cannes Day Four: A Prophet and Mother
Posted on Saturday May 16, 2009, 17:32 by Damon Wise
Sadly, I don't have much time to write about today's discoveries, but I'll make a special effort to bring your attention to Jacques Audiard's A Prophet (pictured) and Bong Joon-ho's Mother. A Prophet is an astonishingly detailed crime drama that could end up being this year's Gomorra, but although it's arguably more accessible, its 2hr 30 running time might deter many that might otherwise be drawn to it. Beautifully performed, shot and performed, it stars Tahar Rahim as Malik, a young illiterate Arab who is sent to prison for assaulting cops. Formerly a juvenile delinquent, he is now old enough to go to the big house, and he is immediately accosted by a Corsican gang who run the joint. The Corsicans want him to kill an informant who is being housed there in transit, and though he is reluctant, Malik realises he has to do what they say or be killed in forfeit. The first half hour is tense and desperately uncomfortable as the Corsicans train him in murder: he learns how to keep a razor blade in his mouth, which he must use to slice his victim's throat. It would be spoiling things to say what happens next, but it isn't pretty, and over the next six years, Malik becomes the Corsicans' bitch, despised by his fellow Arabs who have formed a clique on the other side of theyard
I didn't really go overboard for Audiard's last film, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, a remake of James Toback's Fingers, but this is just a spectacular slow-burn prison drama, with Rahim outstanding as the lead. He begins scarred and afraid, but slowly makes friends – well, one – and starts to plot a course that will take him out jail and into a new life (come out “better”, as his victim tells him). By the end, he is a man transformed, and although the film does feel slightly overlong at 8.30 in the morning, it will surely work better as an evening experience, as Malik bides his time, a man from nothing (and with nothing) trying artfully to scale the bars that life has made for him.
Another film with a stupendous star turn is Mother, the latest from Bong Joon-ho and a murder mystery in the vein of his fantastic debut, Memories Of Murder. Like many of the films this year, it's a bit overlong but it really cements The Host director's reputation as a hot South Korean talent. To be honest, I don't know why this isn't in competition in place of Park Chan-Wook's Thirst: it's elegant, witty, tightly plotted and absolutely gripping. If Almodovar made a Hitchcock movie by way of Twin Peaks it would turn out like this, a whodunnit in which Kim Hye-Ja plays the mother of a retarded boy, Doon-jo (Won Bin), who sets out to prove the boy's innocence when he is accused of murder. Driven by selfless motherly pride, she initially suspects Doon-jo's best friend, and as she starts to investigate, a lot of unsavoury facts start to emerge from the victim's private life. It would be unfair to say more, other than that Mother is a highly original take on a familiar plotline, and Kim's bravura performance really powers it along. In a way, it is the opposite of Memories Of Murder, since that was a film about a man who never gets the closure he's looking for. In Mother, the character does, and her journey is as affecting for the audience as it is for her.