November 21, 2010

Meet you on the corner of Nothing and Nowhere

A prison double bill: A Prophet (Jacques Audiard, 2009), above, and Hunger (Steve McQueen, 2008), below. Each will make you feel like you’ve never seen a better prison movie. Audiard’s has the criminal education of the otherwise unknowable Malik (Tahar Rahim) set over a six-year sentence within Byzantine prison politics that include a Corsican gang, Italians and Muslims, plus criminal errands on the outside; it is almost baroque, maximalist, lurid but never gratuitous in its violence, oppressive and detailed in its view of prison as a total world, with glimpses of the world beyond either narrowed or as contaminated as prison by crime networks; McQueen’s film is spare, an hour shorter, silent for long stretches, quasi-religious, almost the biography of a saint (its Bobby Sands, played by Michael Fassbender, leads a version of communion, suffers indignities in silence, has a summit with a priest about how far he should go that might remind you of Passion dialogues, is as skeletal as Holbein’s dead Christ by the end of it, and his IRA brothers live and look like disciples or monks), but then, Audiard has his provocative religious elements too – that title alone, plus Malik’s move towards Muslim solidarity and identification.