DRAMA; 2hr 29min (French, Arabic and Corsican with subtitles)
STARRING: Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup
Master's apprentice: from left, Rahim and Arestrup
Nineteen is too young to do serious time but despite the mild look of him, Malik El Djebena (Rahim) is no shrinking violet. He’s all alone in the world, with the wariness that entails, and he’s staring down a six-year sentence for assaulting a policeman. (Which he denies. Of course.) Prison is a dirty hierarchical business and before long, Malik, who is part-Arab, part-Corsican, is co-opted by the in-charge Corsican gang’s leader (a terminally deadened Arestrup as César) to cut the throat of another inmate. The thought appals Malik but everyone on the inside needs protection and, anyway, he has forfeited an exit.
Director Jacques Audiard (The Beat That My Heart Skipped ) lays out the racist prison pecking order with a dispassionate exactness that won him the 2009 Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix. If young Malik was a lost cause on the outside, he’s a nascent force behind bars: after winning César’s confidence, he becomes a formidable player in a coldly absorbing rise to power grounded on a bedrock of irony.