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In competition: "A prophet" by Jacques Audiard

About the film:
Directed by Jacques Audiard, winner of the Best Screenplay in 1996 for Un héros très discret, A Prophet is the first French film to screen in Competition this year. Malik is a 19-year-old boy from a North African background sentenced to 6 years in prison. There, he falls in with a gang of Corsican inmates and gradually learns how to develop his own sphere of influence and power. Filmmaker Audiard, who received a César award in 2005 for The Beat That My Heart Skipped, wrote his screenplay based on earlier work by Abdel Raouf Dafri, who penned the two-part biopic of the famed 70s French criminal Mesrine and the series La Commune. In fact, the star of this film, Tahar Rahim, made his breakthrough in that series.

Press conference:
For the presentation in Competition of A Prophet, director Jacques
Audiard, the actors Tahar Rahim and Niels Arestrup, writers Thomas
Bidegain, Nicolas Peufaillit, and Abdel Raouf Dafri, and producers
Pascal Caucheteux and Marco Cherqui answered questions from
journalists. Highlights follow:

Jacques Audiard on his interest in the Corsican mafia, and on the title of the film:
"What I was interested in, in the Corsicans – I didn't want to
undertake a kind of cultural or sociological analysis – was the way the
kind of mafia environment forms. When they are in the prison, they move
around in groups. It could have been Serbs or Basques, or some other
cultural group. That's what I was interested in. I wanted an entity, a
closed entity which was difficult to penetrate. The fact that they're
Corsicans is not really the point… There was also this idea, of having
an aging mob, with the structures which were rather worn down and
rotten. And then the new guys arriving, with another culture, with
another language, with another way of doing things. The title, A
Prophet, connotes a kind of religious injunction, so there is also a
kind of irony. This prophet is announcing a new criminal prototype.
Tahar plays a criminal who is not necessarily a psychopath. He's an
intelligent, almost angelical creature, and the title also announces
that."

Tahar Rahim on his approach to the character:
"I studied documentaries and various films concerning the prisons, the
prison environment, and homeless people, but I soon understood I
couldn't take that path entirely. We had to build up everything,
starting with nothing, as it were. I had to create somebody different,
totally different, and that was the difficulty... It was a composition.
I had to make up the role."

Jacques Audiard on the realism of his film:
"In France today, if you try to make a film about prison, you have two
obstacles. At least we did, in our work. The first is the documentary.
I didn't want to make a film that tended to be social criticism: that
angle didn't interest us. And the other obstacle was the influence of
the image of prison, created by American TV series. Those archetypes
and stereotypes are not specific to France… We visited lots of prisons…
and the model corresponded to the late 19th-century prisons described
by José Giovanni. But this wasn't contemporary enough for us. Since we
couldn't shoot in large prisons which are actually functioning today,
we had to build a set. This was a very important step for us, because
in retrospect, we can see that the film began emerging out of Michel
Barthélémy's set. We saw the prison emerging, as it were, in an
industrial zone in Gennevilliers. It wasn't a studio where we could
move things around. We actually built a prison for ourselves. And when
you go to prison every morning, the realism is a reality."

Niels Arestrup on learning Corsican dialect, and his character:
"Corsican is really foreign to my experience. When I met with Jacques,
I asked him if he was really sure I was right for the part, given all
the physical and cultural differences. I worked with a coach for
several months. I had to learn to feel the music of the words, not
merely say them. To feel a little bit freer with the language. I
allowed myself to be directed, accompanied, and led by Jacques Audiard.
It wasn't the first time we'd worked together. This was a fortunate,
difficult, tough experience, a very complex experience, too… With
hesitations, at times, but an extraordinary experience as an actor.
He's an amazing director."
 

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