Un Prophete is one of the most outstanding French movies of modern times, and possibly one of the best prison films ever in my honest opinion. It sees the induction of a young illiterate man into a hostile and dehumanising situation, after being picked up and slammed into prison, the nervous novice is prey to the more experienced inmates who force him to perform a hit (or bi hit), the person is aware that he’s a targeted man so Malik has to be trained on how to hide a weapon and to gain his trust. First Malik is tutored on how to hold a razor blade in his mouth and carry on a conversation and eat and drink without cutting himself, he’s shown where to cut to kill his target quick, the lessons and short and sharp. He then makes himself available for a private meeting with the target but Malik gets nervous and accidently cuts himself, while being made at home by a victim, another human who is actually being kind to him, he has no beef with this man but if he doesn’t go through with the hit then he knows he’ll end up dead next.
Visibly his distress takes over and he messily goes in for the kill, a struggle ensues but he manages to kill his target and tries to remain as clean as possible to get back to his cell.
It’s a brutal scene; it’s so very dark in nature. Malik realises that he’s totally out of his league, and being so jumpy everything goes totally wrong. It’s a total buffoon with nearly everything he came up against when he first entered prison, this is what makes him such a great target for the gang, but this hit is so vital to his survival and while he messes the job up he still manages to kill the guy but a lot of luck was on his side.
I don’t think that he really thought through the steps of the killing, really how could he when he’s never done it before, but the kindness shown to him really made it all that much bittersweet. Here is this man who can see potential in him, making him a drink, telling him about the learning provisions inside the facility. And Malik has to kill him, he can’t warn him, he can’t get away. And the slaying is pretty ghastly, there is a struggle and using a razor there is a lot of blood.
Something to add and hopefully it’s not too much of a spoiler but this guy doesn’t just die and go, his “ghost” appears to Malik several times during the course of the movie. He doesn’t decompose like An American Werewolf in London (1981) but there are scenes where he seems to be smouldering, as if maybe trapped in purgatory, there’s nothing darkly supernatural about the scenes either, they slip in quite neatly into the film.
Up until this point Malik hasn’t done anything violent or had been seen committing a crime but from this moment on his crime is fully on his shoulders and follows him around in a non-threatening way. This is a pivotal moment which is crafted so well and really sums up just how strikingly gruesome this prison film is.