Tuesday, March 9, 2010
This French feature won the Jury Prize as best film in last years Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for best foreign film in this year's Oscars. Many have called it the 'anti-Scarface' so I thought it was worth a look.
A young prisoner (Malik), a Moroccan Muslim is brought to jail for the first time to serve a six year sentence. But as a French citizen he fits in with neither the French nor Muslim gangs in the prison. He is as raw a prisoner that has ever entered prison. Being illiterate doesn't help either.
At first he is given a job in the prison's sewing room but proves to be unable to do much with that. He spends his days alone and his yard time alone. That makes him a target to everyone. He even has his shoes stolen in the yard within the first few days.
However, an opportunity arises for him to do a killing for the boss of the French/Corsican gang who run the prison. Cesar, the gang leader needs an inmate killed before that inmate can testify against him so our boy Malik is asked to do the job. Since he is a ghost, he can move between both groups and gain access to the Muslim prisoner Cesar wants dead.
Malik knows that if he doesn't do the deed that he will be killed himself so like any survivor he first attempts to involve the administration in his problem. Of course that was the last thing that he should have done.
Left with few options Malik does the deed sloppily but vows to himself that one day he will be the one pulling the strings instead of the puppet on the other end of the line.
The scenes of Malik preparing himself to commit his first murder show how ill equip he is for life as a prison strongman. However, he learns quickly and under the strong tutelage of Cesar, he rises up the ranks learning all the tricks one needs to traffic in drugs, extortion and influence. This in turn enriches Malik's life.
It is fascinating to watch how his life in prison continues. I wonder if I would be able to make the choices he does while living in fear the whole time.
Malik says little but takes to education and soon learns how to read and write both French and Arabic. He has a gift for observation and being in the right place at the right time to advance himself up the rank of the prison gang.
He has a remarkable ability to work with both Arabs and French as neither see him as a treat but as a conduit to get what they want from each other.
When a new law releases most of the elder Cesar's gang, he is now left without the power and protection he once enjoyed. Once again, Malik is there to step in and help the old man. Now working as a food porter, he is the eyes and ears of Cesar and learns fast how things work in this institution.
Soon he is not only working for the Corsicans but for himself. I enjoyed how each section of the film concerns itself with Malik's further education as a criminal kingpin. I knew after a time I would have to watch the inevitable fall that comes with all such tales. Certainly someone can't just succeed without consequences, right?
If I have piqued your interests then this is a movie you may want to check out. It doesn't move fast like a Hollywood movie and for some of us that is a blessing. With a cast of unknowns you really feel like you are in the moment, living these lives with these characters. I prefer the subtitled versions myself since the one translated directly into English seem to dumb things down for us.
Posted by Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness at 8:32 PM