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Crime behind bars

On first sight, young Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim) is unimpressive. Almost mute in his illiteracy, the young Arab who has been sentenced to six years in a French prison appears doomed to being as much a victim inside as outside. From the moment he's fingered by the prison's Corsican mafia to kill a fellow-inmate, he's a useful but 'dirty' Arab. But El Djebena, in his quiet, unobtrusive way, begins to gain trust and make friends, and through a mixture of persistence, street smarts and boldness, rises far above what others have designated him to be.

In its gradual build-up, Un prophète is as subtle as Scarface is not. The results are plain to see – even when it is clear El Djebena has made it, even when he is wholeheartedly embracing violence, he's still the same vulnerable-looking, likeable young man. This has a lot to do with the complex cast of criminals who inhabit his world – the overbearing yet somehow pitiable Corsican Luciano; handsome, ailing Ryad; drug-dealing Jordi Le Gitan; and the ghost of Reyeb, who El Djebena has brutally murdered.

A crime movie as epic as any that have come before, and far more than the prison study it appears to be in the opening scenes.

Un prophète (2009)
Dir. Jacques Audiard
150 minutes

Once, and again

Seldom do they make movies that don't adhere to the traditions of genre. Once is a boy meets girl musical, but that's where the similarities to a musical end. Writer and director John Carney has here a unique story of unrequited love between two musicians, skilfully played by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. The lead characters of Hansard and Irglova do not have names, but they interact and bond so naturally that you hardly realise it. Hansard's character is a street performer and a part-time vacuum cleaner repairer while Irglova plays a trained pianist who works as a maid and sells flowers for a living. The girl is first drawn to the street performer's octave leaping songs and as the movie progresses, they discover each other in their passion for music. As they work together on a recording, the two are linked by an unforced intimacy, even though both of them have their hearts set on someone else. Set in Dublin, this Irish love story is buoyed by a fantastic soundtrack, composed and performed by Hansard and Irglova themselves. The best part about Once is that nothing feels strained or over the top. It's a delightful experience.

Once (2006)
Dir. John Carney
85 minutes

Namita's yatra

1. Battisputali
Un prophète is one of the best movies i have ever seen. Like the reviewer says, "A crime movie as epic as any that have come before, and far more than the prison study it appears to be in the opening scenes."

Some individual scenes stay with you for so long:- the horrific murder, Malik at the airport and in the plane, and the final few scenes where Malik finally wrests power away from the Corsican. Brilliant movie!

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)