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If a male filmmaker desires to throw up grim truth and reality before the eyes of moviegoers and also swoon critics, many of whom subsist on darker themes, he will at some point consider making a film about war or prison. There are no greater immediate settings for tapping perennial sentiments of a mad world, or for demystifying masculinity by scraping it and reducing it to a primal essence. Unlike the ambitious gangster or mob film, reputable prison dramas tend to feature a protagonist that is closer to us, a person thrown to hell rather than embodying it, nakedly amidst wolves as opposed to running with them. (Ironic, given these characters’ punishments at the hands of society and/or government.)

Engrossing and well-crafted but formulaic and borderline genre-fare, A Prophet is the latest prison film to follow this mold and punch its way creatively outward. Winner of the Grand Prix at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, A Prophet has landed on a number of top 10 lists for 2009; with a domestic release forthcoming, we’ll likely see its inclusion on many of this year’s as well.

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