Sunday, July 10, 2011

Un Prophète: The Pragmatism of Identity





There can be many motifs, themes, and symbolisms identified in the complicated and almost messy film Un Prophète by Director Jacques Audiard (2009), but none is perhaps more salient than the politics of identity and prison power relations. The entire film itself focuses on the prison life of young Malik El Djebena who was all of a sudden thrown into the dirty power struggles in prison and amongst various ethnic groups. Indeed, the intricate power relations of prison and identity in the film all symbolize at the micro-level the larger social realities of contemporary French society and the experiences of the people in France as they negotiate social boundaries within the state that has been increasingly assimilative of immigrant groups and other out-groups.


Malik El Djebena is a mysterious and clueless 19-year-old boy sentenced into prison for six years for reasons not directly identifiable from the film but may be interpreted as charges of attacking policemen, for which he was accused as he was being interviewed by a prison officer before actually entering his cell. In a scene that appears to be an interview for prison classes, Malik reveals some important telling facts about his life before becoming an inmate. Having had no parents to raise him, Malik spent his childhood at an unspecified youth center until he was 11 years old, at which point he left the center without learning sufficient skills to read and write. When asked by the interviewer about his mother tongue or at least the language he spoke first, Malik does not know whether he spoke French or Arabic first. He simply answers that he spoke both. Tracing this through the lenses of psychology (Smith, Nolen-Hoeksema, Fredrickson, & Loftus, 2003), this may mean that in his early toddler years Malik was already exposed to groups that spoke both French and Arabic – either a combination of French and Arabic groups or a simple immigrant Muslim group in France. In any case, this means that Malik was most probably born in France and that, more importantly, he was exposed even at an early age to Muslim communities in the country.


The internal struggle and self-negotiation within the character of Malik El Djebena is important and salient especially in the arena of the sociological theoretical perspective of symbolic interaction. In truth, the characterization of Malik’s persona narrates the larger ongoing negotiations of Muslim culture and identity within the French society. The Muslim community in France is the largest in Western Europe, constituting five to six million or 8-9.6% of 62.3 million French citizens in 2004 by estimates of the French government (BBC News, 2005). Around 70% of this Muslim community traces its heritage to the French colonies of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia in North Africa (BBC News, 2005), spelling a high probability that Malik’s inmate nickname amongst the Corsicans – “the Arab” – is in fact a misnomer and that Malik is in fact more likely to be of North African descent. Ergo, the symbolism of Malik’s confused persona here is more or less clear: In the same way that Malik El Djebena has to come to terms with his own Muslim identity as he faces the might of the French prison, ethnic discrimination from the Corsicans, and the anger and disapproval of his own Muslim brothers, many Muslims in France today have to come to terms with their own identity as they face the pretentiously tolerant but merely assimilative French state, the increasing xenophobia amongst various groups in French society, and even the pressure of extremist Muslim forces in France (Noiriel, 1996).


As seen in the film, Malik had been initially detached from his Muslim identity most especially during his long-time slavery under the Corsican prisoners but eventually let himself be absorbed into the Muslim community. His allegiance with the Muslim prisoners towards the end of the film through his charitable donation to an imam (Islam priest) may appear sudden and unexpected at first but, once thoroughly analyzed, his allegiance was in fact a process – a negotiation within himself and a long and difficult formation of his own integrity as he spent years in prison. Throughout the narrative, Malik was exposed to kindness from Muslim individuals such as Reyeb who treated Malik kindly before Malik was forced to murder him. In fact, Reyeb was one of the first people who actually showed interest and care for Malik, promising to leave Malik his books so he can learn to read. Malik was so attached to Reyeb that he kept fantasizing about Reyeb’s existence, imagining Reyeb as his only confidante in the chaos and secrets of prison life. There was also, of course, Ryad who eventually became his business partner and his closest and most reliable friend. Malik found himself caring so much for Ryad that Malik even promised to adopt Ryad’s family after Ryad’s death as soon as Malik left prison. Aside from the kindness of his Muslim brothers, Malik was also exposed to discrimination from the Corsican prisoners who treated Malik like their slave and even forced Malik under a death threat to murder Reyeb. Malik may have therefore attached discrimination against the Muslims to the Corsicans who hated him as well, allowing for sympathy towards the Muslims. If only none of these factors were present, Malik may have continued to live without any identity or sense of belongingness to a community, having had no such concept at the beginning of the film. For example, if only the Corsicans sympathized with Malik and treated him kindly, Malik may have become more attached to the Corsican than the Muslim identity. Such experiences of Malik therefore may have fueled the process of his growing sympathy with the Muslim community.


Malik El Djebena, of course, was only one persona in the film and depicted only the confusion and negotiations of Muslims in the French society. Looking at the larger power relations going on in the film, we see as well the power struggles and negotiations of the in-prison Corsican mafia led by Caesar Luciani. The political history of Corsica, an island outside mainland France and nearer to Italy than France, is replete with occupations by various forces beginning with the Carthagians but its more modern and therefore more recent memory of colonization is marked by the political negotiations between Italy and France. Corsica was ruled by the Italian Republic of Genoa from the 1400s to the 1700s (BBC News, 2011). An independent Corsican republic was founded in 1755 by nationalists, but the island was ceded to France by purchase in 1769 (BBC News, 2011). Today, Corsica is a territorial collectivity and one of the least developed regions of France (BBC News, 2011). Its culture is also closer to Italian than French, with its language being linguistically similar with Italian and the existence of mafia families in the island (Nundy, 1993). The Corsicans therefore, with their Italian-influenced culture, have to come to terms with the various impositions of rule under the French state which continuously fails to understand the special needs of the Corsican people. This has led to a violent separatist movement in Corsica (BBC News, 2011).


Unlike the Muslims, however, the Corsicans in the film depict a success story in the beginning of the narrative. Through negotiations with the corrupted French prison system, Caesar Luciani leads a well-connected Corsican mafia spoiled by the prison guards. Unlike other prisoners, the Corsicans are allowed several liberties such as outside communication and the freedom to bully and dominate other groups in prison without punitive measures. The Corsicans, however, eventually face defeat as the Muslim community in prison grew in number and began to dominate the politics in prison particularly through Malik El Djebena’s eventual betrayal against Caesar Luciani. The defeat was also, quite ironically, fueled by the pardon ordered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to Corsicans, seeing them merely as political prisoners under the growing tension between the Corsican separatist movement and the French state. Here, again, we see the connection between social and political realities and the prison politics portrayed in the film.


Finally, the film also alludes to the increasingly relevant issue of corruption within the machinations of the French government. Cited by Ezra Suleiman in 1994, the French civil service, formerly a bastion of efficiency and impressively professional bureaucracy, faces criticisms as it is eaten by politicization and problems of corruption. This is particularly important in the depiction of the French prison in the film. Clearly portrayed as a total institution – an institution of social isolation and administrative manipulation (Macionis, 2005) – the prison was trembling into corruption and bias to the powerful groups inside it. Elements of its character as a total institution were shown in the film through a regularized diet for prisoners, regularized recreational periods and areas, and even Malik’s forced stripping of his clothes and property before entering the prison. However, alluding to reality, the prison guards were depicted to have tendencies to support the Corsican mafia, for example, which had a powerful network outside the prison walls. Ergo, even the French prison has to deal with its own negotiations with the various groups existing within its walls and is, in fact, pressured to maintain its integrity despite the strength of forces subject to it. The French prison can therefore be seen as a symbolism of the larger French state, which has to come to terms with its growing Muslim community, the Corsican mafias and separatist movement, and even its own depleting and crumbling integrity in the face of politicization and corruption.


In synthesis, therefore, the narrative within the film not a narrative isolated from the larger social contexts within which the film was made. The clear social realism within the film has unavoidably turned its fictional narrative into a social and political depiction and critique of French society and politics. The salience of the film as a product of political socialization is undeniable and cannot be ignored. Indeed, as was made clear by this film, the political values and realities of the larger social context inevitably affect filmmaking.


References:

BBC News. (2005, December 23). Muslims in Europe: Country Guide. Retrieved July 5, 2011, from BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4385768.stm

BBC News. (2011, April 28). Regions and territories: Corsica. Retrieved July 5, 2011, from BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/country_profiles/3028038.stm

Macionis, J. (2005). Society: The Basics. US: Prentice Hall.

Noiriel, G. (1996). The French Melting Pot: Immigration, Citizenship, and National Identity. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Nundy, J. (1993, August 25). Corsican guerrillas take on Mafia: The nationalists demanding independence from Paris have a new aim, writes Julian Nundy in Ajaccio: tackling organised crime. Retrieved July 5, 2011, from The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/corsican-guerrillas-take-on-mafia-the-nationalists-demanding-independence-from-paris-have-a-new-aim-writes-julian-nundy-in-ajaccio-tackling-organised-crime-1463291.html

Smith, E. E., Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Fredrickson, B., & Loftus, G. R. (2003). Atkinson & Hilgard's Introduction to Psychology (14th ed.). Australia: Thomson & Wadsworth.

Suleiman, E. (1994). Presidentialism and Political Stability in France. In J. Linz, & A. Valenzuela (Eds.), The Failure of Presidential Democracy, Volume 1: Comparative Perspectives (pp. 137-162). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

- Juan Carlo Tejano


A 19 year old Arab boy gets imprisoned for attacking a police officer. Upon his entry, the battle between morality and survival begins as Malik receives a killing order from the Corsican Mafia in exchange of protection and his own place in the prison hierarchy. He is an antihero who murdered his own race, sought revenge on the Corsican gang and became a mafia boss himself.

A Prophet is a film about the corruption of French society manifested through its penal system. France proclaims itself as “Le Pays des droits de l’Homme” (the country of human rights) when extreme cases of xenophobia is present in their everyday lives. One issue presented in this film is the discrimination against the Arabs, evident in the racist remarks of the Corsicans. Malik, an Arab man considered to be part of their clique who is treated otherwise, and is made to do the dirty job fit for his race. He serves them food, cleans their cells and follows them around like a dog, yet he is consistently a target of racism. At one point, Malik tries to imitate their words, “fucking Arab shit”, insulting his own people. He is presented with the dilemma of embracing his Arab identity in the expense of his survival inside the prison. While running errands for the Luciani, he lingers long enough at the sight of the Muslims praying, suggesting his desire to do the same. However, there is a time when the Arabs insulted him as a pig for enslaving himself to the Corsicans. It is difficult to establish his allegiance to both races as it is often inconsistent.

But what is Malik el Djebena identity? Could we blame him for killing his fellow Arab in a total institution devoid of morality? The social norms no longer apply in a system that is filled with cold blooded criminals. The rules have changed: kill or get killed. And this is exactly how a powerful mafia boss threatened a newbie petty criminal. Of course, the need to live would outweigh the moral implications of murdering a man. Especially when Malik is confused of his identity, it is easy for him to give himself at the disposal of the gang. However, throughout the movie, his allegiance to both races can become confusing to the audience as he starts learning how to read with his fellow Arabs. This is further complicated by his companionship with Ryad and servitude to Luciani. His allegiance to the Arabs and Corsicans is conflicted throughout his 6 year sentence. I think that his loyalty to a particular race is a self-serving means of being at the right side of the fight at the right time. His identity remains as vague as his dreams and “visions” of the future.

The penal system is created to protect the society from the criminals who pose threat to the lives of its citizens. However, it must also be correctional for the reformation and rehabilitation of the prisoners for their future reintegration to the society.

However, this is not the case in the film. This institution has dehumanized Malik starting from the humiliating full body inspection upon his entry to the prison. He even brings this routine in the airport as a security guard inspects his body. His crime was not established concretely and remained vague until he killed a man. How would we know if he was a random person in the street who was taken advantage of the police? The answer is no longer important for the very institution tasked to turn him into a better citizen, introduced his innocent young mind to the brutalities of the world. It is not only the police who turn blind on the crimes happening inside the prison, but also the lawyers who represent their clients for financial reasons alone. The entire penal system is perpetuating a culture of violence and breeds corrupted felons.

The transformation of Malik comes in full circle when he murdered the leader of the mafia and his men in broad daylight. A moment of distraction on a luxurious pair of shoes in a window of a store, shows the reluctance of Malik to carry on the deed. However, his face instantaneously turned cold and dark, filled with murderous intent. Without mercy, he blew up the brains of the men and used their bodies as shield as he went for his final kill. This shows the effect of the institution of the prison and its ability to dehumanize people. It corrupts the morality and belief systems governing an individual and transforms him in a state of anarchy, who lives by the rules of the day.

However, the corruption of the Malik is a learning process. Entering a dangerous world filled with criminals and not knowing how to survive is definitely terrifying for a petty criminal like Malik. He killed a man who showed kindness and introduced education to him. His conscience keeps him company in the form of Reyeb. As he gain experience on the drug trade in prison, his autonomy from Luciani and his gang increased, allowing him to build his connections with other inmates. His deception skills reached at its peak when he got the trust of both the leaders of the warring factions. From the blade in his bloody mouth, he now kills without remorse. Reyeb ceases to exist after his transformation from the 19-year old boy to a fully-pledged mafia boss.

“A Prophet” is an award winning film not only because of its harrowing story but also because of Jacques Audiard’s ability to captivate his audience and place them inside his film. The heaviness of the conscience of Malik before he kills Reyeb transcends the screen and fills the entire room. The whole class is writhing in their seats as they struggle in the frame that could barely contain them. The tones of the entire film are in blue or gray giving off a depressing vibe to the film. Furthermore, the violence is overpowering as the bloody images remain with the audience.

- Victoria Tiangco

29 comments:

Liane Candelario said...
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Liane Candelario said...
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Liane Candelario said...

Part I

I find it quite herculean for a movie to recreate and parallelize the full social context of its immediate audience- in this case the French state. In the superficial level, we see a man trying to keep himself afloat a hostile environment. In a place where allegiance and obedience goes hand in hand with survival, Malik Djebana’s struggle is no more than systematic casualty faced by about every interracial French convict. Then here goes the catch. Is it just that? Or does the circumstances in Un Prophète allow us juxtapose every detail into the greater society and, as the reviews would say, claim the film as a microcosmic model? In the processes of parallelizing the movie to the greater state, the most obvious common denominator would of course be the cleavage between races in prison with the Corsicans (relatively male white French) and the Muslims. From then on, the list could go to corruption in the bureaucracy (being the prison), to illiteracy of Malik’s youth (the unequal opportunity among races), and probably the ability to tip the scales of justice just by seeking the right ties. Stacking one on top of the other, they produce such a stark resemblance to the growing pessimism amongst the French. If that’s the case, might as well jump to the conclusion that yes, it is indeed a film that narrates the story of a country when in all honesty- it’s not for me. Well, not entirely.

I’d like to point out one contestation, and that would be the inherent bias of the setting. Because in reality, whether or not a country is unified or undergoing social upheavals, a prison remains to be what it is; ruthless, fraternal, and an arena for contestation to power- may it be for the sake of claiming territory among all other possible reasons. Tensions arise frequently and whether or not you’re housed in a 3rd world or 1st world prison, I believe it is common for some factions to gain favors from authorities who keep them in order. Therefore, it wouldn’t stand very well to directly attribute such characteristics to something bigger and more complicated in nature like the government or society. Corruption may be eternally present in any government to some levels but the question is if it’s as troubling as the corruption and unjustified favors granted by such prison guards.

Liane Candelario said...

Part II

Beyond, that, the meat of the story lies in a man’s grim struggle to find his identity while maneuvering his way amidst racial disputes and illegal activities beyond the fences. This is where Un Prophète provides an entirely new experience, and that is by letting us observe the battle amongst identities or even just the mere attempt to reconcile your own. There’s a rich irony here, while Malik is being ordered to turn his back against his Muslim brothers, he on the other hand is being coerced to use his brother’s very identity it for the Corsincan’s own advantage (especially Luciani’s). And that’s something that can truly be observed ontologically in the everyday lives of the growing, multi-racial French. In turn, the search for a unified French identity has become as incomprehensible as ever as the Mona Lisa smile in Louvre.

There’s strong violence and gritty texture in this movie. The action is raw and it makes you feel as if every cut, punch, or hallucination is your own. Reyeb, the man that was killed by Malik, for instance is not presented as a silvery smoke like most mainstream movies would portray a spirit. Instead he’s very much real in flesh and bone except for those bizarre cigarette puffs steaming from his neck laceration. You can hear the screams or the cries of anguish in your head even if they would most likely be scenes where the sound would be stripped off to resemble a mute. Un Prophète goes beyond the visual and delivers a film experience that reels you in and makes you feel that you’re under the very same disposition.

-CANDELARIO, Liane Stella

Rosie said...

In response to the entry by Victoria Tiangco.

What gets me about Un Prophète is not Malik’s struggle between identities. Most of the analyses of the film focus on how our antihero Malik el Djebena (played by Tahar Rahim) struggled with his Arab ethnicity and Corsican affiliation inside the prison. And while it is significant, there are other themes that can be explored.

During the trailer, the slamming steel bars dredged up memories of Prison Break, an American TV series about a structural engineer who got himself imprisoned so he could help his brother on death row break out, having the building plans tattooed on his body for reference. But as the film wore on, I realized Un Prophète was hinged on something quite far from desperately honest intentions; it was about survival of the fittest in a situation where death, quite literally, is the consequence of the failure to adapt.

I want to, first, discuss the assertion that the film is basically a metaphor for the “corruption of the French society manifested through its penal system.” I do not completely disagree, but it’s just that prisons have a unique setup which ensures that inmates will find ‘their kind’ and stick to them. It is not surprising that the racial element surfaces; here we can cite American sociologist Leo Carroll who in 1974 established that prisoners form cohesive associations among themselves primarily along racial lines. Prisons are about survival, and survival means alliances. Inmates are segregated to a much farther extent than in the society outside bars. Given this unique character of prisons, we are able to see very clearly the racial divisions and hierarchy. The write-up has emphasized how the Corsicans were prejudiced against the Arabs, calling them names and treating them as inferiors fit only to clean up after them. The Arabs had their own cell block, cliques, support systems, and defenses, but it was quite obvious that they drew the short stick.

We seem to be forgetting, however, that there are three ethnicities involved: Corsican, Arab, and FRENCH. This is a French prison, after all. (I do not consider the Corsicans French because they don’t consider themselves French. Note the separatist movement and the birth of the Corsican Regional Assembly in 1982.) In the film, the French are the prison guards who to a large extent are faceless – save for the interrogations in the beginning and inspections or routine checks, they don’t seem to feature prominently. But they are the real wielders of power here.

Rosie said...

There is a spectrum of film prison guards: on one end, those who believe in truth and beauty in the human soul and try to make a difference, and on the other, the misguided and often unscrupulous ones who take advantage of their position of power to perpetuate the prison status quo, ensuring their profit from clandestine activities in the process. In Un Prophète we are given at the very beginning a clue as to how the guards are involved in the affairs of Cesar Luciani (Niels Arestrup). After being ordered by Luciani to kill Reyeb (Hichem Yacoubi), Malik frantically calls the prison director for help through his cell’s intercom. Two guards barge in, throw a plastic bag over his head, and tell him to follow orders if he doesn’t want to die. The prison guards are just as involved in the prison’s politics as the inmates, except that as long they’re all inside, they will always have the upper hand.
Xenophobia, said to be present in French society, is about racial dominance. And the dominance here definitely shows through: in this controlled environment the Corsican inmates are at the top of the food chain, the Arabs are at the bottom, but ultimately it is the French who supervise and decide who gets the Playstation and who gets thrown into solitary confinement. It is in this sense I agree that this film reflects French society today.

There are two other things I want to briefly discuss. First is what I liked most about the film: post-mortem Reyeb living on in Malik’s consciousness. Being a fan of a number of series and films that deal with murder, I found that this was a very good way to make the audience understand where Malik was coming from. He wasn’t a hardened criminal, he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and took the first option in “kill or be killed.” He was just as horrified with putting that blade in his mouth as we in the audience were. It strongly reminded me of that definitive moment in The Godfather where Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), Don Vito Corleone’s extremely reluctant but only logical heir, retrieved the gun hidden in the bathroom and came out of the stall firing at Solozzo and McCluskey. Neither Michael nor Malik were the same after their first kill. Unlike Michael who never looked back at Solozzo and McCluskey, however, Reyeb became a part of Malik the moment he slashed his throat. I liked the irony of how they were truly linked by blood after that.

Rosie said...

The last thing I want to comment on is what Ms. Tiangco talked about in her last few paragraphs. I agree that “the corruption of Malik is a learning process.” And the final theme, that of the student becoming the master is one frequently employed, and is the only thing that is predictable about this movie. Malik double-crosses Luciani, uses human shields while smiling serenely for the first and last time in the film, gains the respect of the Arabs in the prison, and overthrows Luciani as the king of the prison grounds. And yet we empathize; even after we have seen what he is capable of, we exonerate him as he walks out prison and is greeted by the wife and son of his most trusted friend.

By momentarily taking us out of our comfortable lives and into a world where morality is redefined by necessity, Un Prophète reminds us that the truly provocative lies in the gray areas.

Reference:
Champion, Dean J. "Prison." Microsoft® Encarta® 2007 [CD]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 2006.

- Mary Roseanne Ramirez

Margaret Gallardo said...
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Margaret Gallardo said...

“Prison is the exact opposite of how appropriate society conducts itself.” (Bates) You are held accountable for anything that you do. Killing someone in the “real world” will earn you shame and loathing while doing so in the confines of prison will merit you badges that scream respect. This type of respect is, as Mr. Bates put it, only given out of fear and is based on manipulation.

Un Prophète is a film by Jacques Audiard that centers on Malik El Djebena: an impoverished young Frenchman of Arab descent. Throughout the duration of the film, he finds ways to navigate around “Corsican and Arab gangs to rise to power in a vast, overcrowded prison.” (Kimmelman, 2009) The film, although set in prison, does not focus on imprisonment per se. Several themes are given emphasis in the movie: prison conditions in France, prison politics and gay sex among others. Un Prophète has been awarded for several categories mostly because its viewers are given a direct look into the situation where “Corsicans are at war with Italians, and you have Arabs who speak Arabic and are called Arabs, and there’s talk about people becoming radical Muslims in jail.” (Kimmelman, 2009) In general, an audience plus a taboo film almost always equates to success.

Djebena is imprisoned for a vague crime involving the assault of a uniformed individual. As he is made to strip off his clothes and undergo standard operating procedures, we, the viewers, are exposed to the truth. The truth, in the sense, that nobody is exempted from humiliation. Later, Djebena attracts the attention of the Corsicans and their leader: César Luciani. Luciani is presented as a controlling individual who is willing to do anything to achieve what he wants regardless of the damage inflicted upon “innocent” people. In this case, Reyeb is the innocent person of Arab descent. Luciani instructs Djebena to kill Reyeb. Since Djebena is a newcomer and, therefore, has not established any friendships or alliances, he is forced to comply with Luciani’s orders and kills Reyeb. He does so using a razor blade carefully hidden in his mouth. As Reyeb’s blood splatters all over the place, one starts wondering what Audiard had in mind while filming this scene. A few seconds into the scene feels like an eternity. It takes quite a while before Reyeb’s body stops shaking; probably due to the sloppy execution of the murder or because it simply takes a long time for someone to bleed to death. Either way, the scene was ghastly. “Mr. Audiard effectively turns us into witnesses to a horrible crime, though not in order to punish us for our ostensible complicity in the violence.” (Dargis, 2010) Audiard tries to convey the message to the audience that despite Djebena’s act of killing Reyeb, he is full of remorse. But at the end of the day, any sane person would conclude that Djebena is, indeed, guilty.

Fiona Arevalo said...

PART I
Horrified, perplexed, shocked and disturbed. These are what the movie Un Prophete made me feel during and after watching it. I haven’t been as disturbed and traumatized by any film before, to think that I am a horror and gruesome film aficionada. Perhaps, what sets this film apart from all these other films is its incredible capacity to reflect reality. The mere thought that such malevolence and immorality really do exist and that it can actually be observed in prison halls make it hard to not feel as disturbed as this. It is a version of realism that makes you shudder for it gets under your skin and takes you into this awful world it depicts. Everything hurts and the audience is completely drawn into the horrifying experiences of young Malik. Audiard’s use of many stylistic flourishes, such as freeze frames, and a liberal dose of sensuality presented violence in a very flawless and poetic manner.
Jacques Audiard is legendary when it comes to hard-edged crime cinema. The director claims an interest in real life, stating that “Cinema for me only has meaning when it has a relationship with what I see outside on the street” (Laurier, 2010). Un Propehete is a prison drama which exposes the intricacies, politics, immoralities and horrid realities of the penal system at a micro-level and the French state and society at a macro-level.
The realities of prison life had been showcased to a great extent in this film—prison politics, power relations, dehumanization and demoralization, and the corruption of the French penal system. Moreover, it dwells on the issues of a multicultural France. Contrary to their claim that their country is the home of human rights, French society is experiencing a growing case of xenophobia in dealing with their immigrant population. This issue was highlighted in the rivalry between the two dominant groups in the penal complex—the Corsicans who seem to have gained dominance through their connections with the prison guards and the Muslims.

Fiona Arevalo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bulawi said...

Un Prophète by Jacques Audiard is an unnerving film about a young man sent to prison on charges of assaulting a police officer. At first, Malik is portrayed as an inmate who doesn’t seem to have an idea on many things, his identity included. He starts as an unassuming jailbird who falls prey to the Corsican gang led by the mob boss Caesar Luciani and their schemes. He eventually climbs up their social ranks and also permeates the Muslim faction. He eventually earns the privilege to go out for a certain periods of time which he uses to engage in certain activities like drug trafficking while still working for the. In the end, he eventually comes to reconcile with his own identity as he is seen with his Muslim brothers in the end and he becomes a person significant enough to their faction as he merited a set of protectors upon his release.

Evident in the film is the disjoint between the prison institution’s true purpose of rehabilitating its inmates and the actuality that is the disorder happening inside. In paper, it seems that the inmates are given a chance to a better life after serving their sentences through the livelihood and education programs offered. However, the institution still fails to truly reform these inmates as prison politics continue to play a part in shaping the inmates’ lives. Prison politics pervades the prison itself making it difficult for it to fulfil its purpose as it is hindered by the institution created by the inmates. This is clearly seen in the game played by the Corsicans in their prison arena, manipulating individuals like Malik into serving their interests.

In relation to this, we also see the prison officers falling victim to the activities of certain powerful individuals that run their little power trips inside. This is observable in the behaviour of the guards, cooks and doctors, among others, who extend special favors to the Corsican mob boss which included the use of the consultation room for private conversations, using the food card for smuggling and bullying other inmates.

It is also ironic to consider that within this system of correction and reform that certain individuals tend commit acts that can be considered ‘more evil’ than those that put them in prison. In Malik’s case for example, he was put in prison only for assaulting a police officer. Yet at the onset of his term, he learned to murder at the coercion and under the pressure of the Corsicans. During his stay, he also learned to peddle drugs, smuggle goods and kill, kidnap and assault other people so as to survive. He used the breaks that were awarded to him so as to help himself adapt to life outside as a screen for his more covert activities like drug trafficking. If Malik was put in prison for these charges, he would surely be given longer jail time. However, he receives no punitive actions for these acts of crime even if some of these were committed under the noses of the prison guards themselves.

Still, the prison institution did not completely fail to rehabilitate Malik as, even if he learned to execute all those corrupt acts, he also managed to learn to read and write, economics, and some sewing skills that would eventually help him in his life outside.

In the end, despite all the dynamics in prison, life inside still boils down to a rat race where only the fittest survive.

Manalo

Petersen said...

Part I

Take the entry of Malik El Djebana, a 19 year-old Arab, in French prison as his earliest phase in his entire lifetime -- he is again in the womb as an underdeveloped fetus, an incomplete organism inside an egg. There, he experiences the hatching and goes through the experience firsthand, as an innocent caterpillar amidst the sea of venomous insects who, later on, would poison his state of thinking, retrograding his growth rather than metamorphosing himself into becoming an imperatively beautiful butterfly. Instead, he will undergo an entirely different coming-of-age as he would, for a long time, only be viewed as a worthless yet deceiving critter who serves as an underdog slave of a Corsican mafia group. Later on, he completes his metamorphosis, leaving the prison changed from then being just a petty criminal and now as someone who is very capable of doing inexplicable and menacing acts.

The whole process of this rebirth to a renewed (for the better? or worse?) Malik is a wholly gripping and heart-wrenching visual experience. We enter the imminent significant second genesis of his life as mere spectators -- we see what happens, hear what happens, but never can we say anything. We fall silent when he forces a blade to remain inside his mouth. We remain quiet, and most certainly in a state of awe, when he uses the blade to commit his first murder (not to mention to one of his fellow Arabs). We are speechless when he performs a despicable killing in broad daylight. Once his naivety palpably reflects his youth and his un-readiness for this sudden change of setting in his life. As already, an outsider of his country, he becomes once again a total outsider of a prison wherein a corrupted and biased system is being run.

The obvious remark of the idea of the conception of Jacques Audiard's A Prophet, then, would be that it serves as a basic microcosmic representation and commentary on the current French system. But is the film's elements and narrative an entirely holistic basis of comparison and is enough to serve as a synecdoche to the whole of France? True that it mirrors the xenophobic and multicultural France as the prison houses criminals who vary in their races and respectively form groups in this manner of division. True that it somehow offers a picture, in a smaller scale, the corruptness of a system due to adherence to a certain hegemonic (also, arbitrary) entity, who only serve to satisfy their personal interests. Yes, this is all true but we are surely forgetting a major and important flaw to the comparison: the setting is in a prison place. If we are, then, to entirely put a whole country and scale it comparably to a prison, does it go to show that all people who live in France think and act like criminals?

Petersen said...

Part II

Yet A Prophet still places a specific commentary on the French society although it is not to be perceived entirely as a microcosmic model of France. What we have to take note of the film, more importantly, is the struggle of Malik as if his every decision is based on a Darwinian choice more than anything else. The basic animalistic feature that Charles Darwin suggested of how to live through life is, notedly, in the form of a survival-of-the-fittest game. We do not experience this kind of survival-of-the-fittest game Malik enters since we are not placed in the shoes of a prisoner like him. In prison, we see the worst of the worst men of a certain society collectively and communally dwelling on a singular setting. We then beg the question: how exactly would a certain system effectively work in such a place? Considering that we are to observe people who can do things irrationally and off-putting when situated outside the confinements of jail.

Concludingly, A Prophet serves as more of a fragment than a whole proper statement on the corruptness and biases of the French society and government. But grounded in the knowledge that our (anti)hero is Malik, a once passive and soft-spoken lad who is entered in the cocoons of a corrupting French prison which makes himself a venomous insect as well, can we at least find a slight tinge of optimism in the film? Hopeless as the film portrays France to the whole world, the ending sequences walks us out of this miserable fate Malik encounters inside the prison. As he trails his path, at last, outside the premises of such an ill place -- the prison -- do we find him trailing a path to a better life? Again, we are mere spectators (not to mention, foreigners) of Malik's life. We can only see things, hear things -- but can we directly say anything substantive and relevant regarding this matter?

-- Petersen Vargas

royalprincerpineda said...

Part 1

I was totally clueless at first what the movie, Un Prophète (A Prophet), was all about. Based on the title, I thought it would be showing anything about morality or religion or whatever revered I can associate with the word ‘prophet’.

Yet, the film revealed me things that I did not expect from it.

There was neither morality nor religion nor anything about prophets in sacred texts. Instead, the ‘prophet’ of the film, Malik, was perhaps dubbed as one since he eventually rose from the ranks to lead his fellow Arabs against the Corsicans in prison. However, the costs for him to do so were never cheap.

Malik was jailed when he was 19 years old due to charges of attacking the police. Having a very young mind with his own background only partially known to himself, he was exposed to the harsh world inside a prison. From getting beaten by the factions led by Luciani and being distrusted by the Arabs, his morals were all overturned as he played sides just to survive. I quite agree with the two main blog writers, saying that Malik is confused with his own identity, yet I think that what matters most inside a prison where no morals govern is the survival of the fittest (or survival of the most cunning). Malik had to kill Reyeb to gain Luciani’s trust; he had to jump to the other ship when the Corsican mafia’s power waned. It was his own life or his loyalty to the Corsicans; his allegiance to the Arabs or being ostracized for such treachery to their own race. Ms. Tiangco had pointed it out: his loyalty is self-serving—he always sat on the fence and looked on who’s winning to join that side all for his safety. Still, one may contend that Malik is not totally evil—he still had a conscience. Reyeb thrived in his imagination and constantly guided him as he went on with his ways inside the jail. He took full responsibility of Ryad’s widow and child as his best friend died of cancer. He eventually rediscovered his own cultural heritage and overthrew Luciani with the help of his fellow Arabs who became his allies.

royalprincerpineda said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
royalprincerpineda said...

Part 2

There can be other themes that can be discussed in the movie. Mr. Tejano mentioned the context of the French society in relation to the situation inside the prison of Malik and the warring groups. I thought it this way: that the prison can be taken as the micro level of the French society—with xenophobic groups clashing with one another, with punished souls seeking their salvation through sly means, yet without the social norms outside the cold jail bars. I felt uneasy as Malik put the blade in his mouth to prepare the brutal killing of Reyeb. Shivers ran down my spine as Malik slashed Reyeb’s neck veins and blood oozed out. I hated Luciani as he looked into the prophet’s eyes with terror, as if his gaze would kill a person instantly. And the French guards, though not so emphasized in the film, were actually the real people in power, and the micro-society that they created in prison somewhat reflects the French society today. The French were in control of the situation inside the prison, and was responsible for the swing of power between the Corsicans and the Arabs. At first, the Corsicans dominated the prison with the help of the corrupt French guards; but after most of them were pardoned by the French government, Luciani’s group became weak as the Arabs grew in number. Still, these groups were merely given much attention in contemporary France. As the director of the film, Jacques Audiard put it, “I can use that to create something very big…Creating icons, images for people who don't have images, the Arabs in France." (Turan, 2009)

As the film progressed, I became disturbed, confused, and depressed (?), just like almost everyone else in our class. Scenarios inside a jail as I have imagined were clearly depicted in the movie—cold bars portraying hopeless prisoners who would be administered justice; cold and stiff walls built to separate prisoners and creating factions among them; inhumane living conditions of prisoners as they were treated by ruthless jail guards; and the introduction of a once innocent teenager to brutal prison politics, a la Edmond Dantes of Count of Monte Cristo, though with significant differences. Realities depicted in the film really made a great impact of me, as I felt compassion for those suffering inside the jail, and at the same time, the call to urge governments do their part in lessening, if not eliminating, the racial injustices in societies.

Reference:
Turan, K. (2009). Jacques Audiard's 'A Prophet' has a buzz building. Retrieved: July 13, 2011. Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/2009/may/19/entertainment/et-cannes19

-Roldan P. Pineda

faysah said...

Part 1:

Un Prophete features two themes namely prison politics and the question of identity. Inside the premises of the prison, Malik El Djebena, the main protagonist who is inferred to be of Arab-Muslim descent, is forced to come into terms with what initially seems to be an imposing structure of conformity to the ruling group (the Corsicans) and an increasing awareness for identity which he has previously ignored.
Inside the confines of prison, Malik is subjected to impersonal but degrading standard procedures such as the routinary strip search and bathroom accommodations without privacy. While he seems to take all this in stride, he soon attracts the unwanted attention of the ruling clique comprised of Corsican mobsters headed by Cesar Luciani who has no qualms on using Malik to carry out the group’s dirty work despite their racial contempt for Arabs. Malik is left with no choice but to carry out the task of killing a fellow Arab inmate Reyeb in exchange for protection and survival. This demonstrates that even isolated places like prisons still replicate the power struggles of society outside its walls. Convicted inmates or the so-called deviants of society have all been confined to these prison cells to suppress the risks they could impose on society and to reform them. However, as demonstrated by the prison official who has been successfully subordinated by Luciani, there exists a “regulatory capture” even within a system that is supposed to be dominated by authoritative control. Regulatory capture happens when those who have the resources and therefore the power and influence to make use of this power to promote their own interests (Baylon 2006:6-7). This is a common scenario wherein vested interests are able to capture state power to secure their own agenda. The case of Luciani and his Corsican mob show this in the context of a smaller but similar environment wherein authorities give way to their demands even if they are already incarcerated and supposed to be under the control of the authorities.

faysah said...

Part 2:

Meanwhile, structuralists can liken Malik’s situation in a total institution to the common scenario in states and societies where an individual’s actions are constrained by rules. In Malik’s case, dispossession of personal belongings, repression of self-autonomy, and imposition of degrading procedural rules can be likened to how people can turn to passive and fatalistic beings because of the unrelenting imposition of the structure that leaves one with no choice but to resort to criminal means and humiliating subordination in exchange for survival. However, the ending scenes show an agential aspect as Malik switches to the “Arab side” of the yard and defies Luciani. This is a clear case of Anthony Giddens’ structuration theory which states that structures can offer both limits and opportunities for the actor (Hay 1995:198). Taking the latter option, Malik’s will to activate his agency against the contradicting nature of a total institution that is still vulnerable to the machinations of an influential few such as the Corsican mobsters has given him an option during his confinement. However, while Luciani’s “defeat” somehow signals triumph for the protagonist, it still shows the permeability of institutions to the influence of vested interests. The “overthrow” of the Corsicans by their depopulation does not really address the problem inside the prison. It merely reversed the situation with the former marginalized Muslim Arabs now at the top of the power hierarchy with the same principle of gang politics still in operation.

faysah said...

Part 3:

Aside from prison politics, the film presents a concrete issue in French politics which is the question of identity among its migrants. This is a common issue not just in France but in many countries where migrant mobility is relatively easy. Cities like New York, London, and Paris have been dubbed as “melting pots” and have been complimented for its perceived embrace of multi-culturalism. However, upon a closer look at the case of France, one would question whether accepting migrants is really a facet of multiculturalism. France has been reported to have taken the policy of assimilation towards its migrant population (Zappi, 2003). In the effort to preserve the national identity of France, it has undertaken the policy of assimilation which is the process where ethnic minorities such as Arabs and Corsicans as shown in the movie, are absorbed by the mainstream and prevailing culture. This has triggered conflicts over those who refused to be uprooted from their indigenous cultures. Another consequence is that members of ethnic minorities like Malik are left in a state of confusion over their identity and cannot attain a sense of belongingness with the rest of the polity. It is therefore argued that this assimilation policy cannot be a sustainable option for nation-building especially for nation-states with more than one major ethnic group. While the threat to France’s national identity is a valid concern, it should be remembered that ethnic diversity does not necessarily lead to conflict. This will only occur when there is ethnic cleavage or when ethnic groups reject the national identity in favour of a separate and distinct identity (Quilop 2006:2). To avoid this, countries who aim for multiculturalism must therefore consider another model in order to avoid masquerading as a multicultural society to camouflage homogenizing attempts with their melting pot model. Instead, another multicultural model must be chosen where the aim is no longer a “melting pot” but an “ethnic salad” where each ingredient remains distinct, although in the same bowl under the same dressing (Kottak 2007:378).

Baylon, Minerva. 2006. The Political Economy of Regulation in the Philippine Power Industry. Working paper no. 126. Center on Regulation and Competition.

Hay, Colin. 1995. “Structure and Agency” in David Marsh and Gerry Stoker (eds.) Theory and Methods in Political Science. London: Palgrave-Macmillan.

Kottak, Conrad Philipp. 2007. Anthropology: The Exploration of Human Diversity. New York: McGraw Hill.

Quilop, Raymund. “Nation-State Formation in the Philippines,” in Noel Morada and Teresa Encarnacion Tadem. Philippine Politics and Governance: an Introduction. Quezon City: University of the Philippines, Department of Political Science.

Zappi, Sophia. 2003. “France Revives Assimilation Policy” Migration Information Source. Web. Accessed July 11, 2011.


- Abdullah. F

Mico Quijano said...

PART I


However substantive and substantial a film analysis may be, it will fall short of being useful if it does not address a general concern – an issue which transcends borders and remains relevant across countries and cultures. This is what I found problematic about Mr. Tejano’s blog entry. His main thesis is that Un Prophete reflects the “larger social realities of contemporary French society.” While this may prove to be a practical judgment for the French state to consider in efforts to resolve ethnic conflicts among various immigrant groups, it does not say something about similar problems encountered elsewhere. Sure, the film can arguably ignite discussions regarding the conditions of local minorities in France, most notably the growing Muslim community, but what of the indigenous people’s situation here in the Philippines? Some might find it absurd that I am juxtaposing the political influence of a foreign film to local issues – especially if it is intrinsically clear that it was made for its native country – but I argue that there has got to be some way in making sense of the narrative such that it would deal with struggles that aren’t particular of any country. How then does Un Prophete, as a viable tool for political socialization, contribute to significant discourses on ethnic identity and discrimination?
Allow me to employ a neo-Marxist framework, specifically class analysis, in deconstructing the film. Before anything else, it should be made clear that class analysis is not solely grounded on the principle of economic determinism. In a film whose main characters are primarily defined by their ethnicities, social capital is as equally important as economic capital. This would especially be applicable since their class origins cannot be immediately inferred from the story line. It is therefore imperative to ask questions such as: Who has the means to acquire special privileges? Who has the ability to manipulate the system for their own gains? Who inherently has the social status which affords them of undue advantages? Obviously, in the case of Un Prophete, it is the mafia of Corsicans led by the infamous Caesar Luciani. It is this group which can be considered as the ruling class. Consequently, Malik Djebena, who is mistakenly identified as an Arab but is actually of North African descent, is part of the oppressed class that is the Muslim community.

Mico Quijano said...

PART I


However substantive and substantial a film analysis may be, it will fall short of being useful if it does not address a general concern – an issue which transcends borders and remains relevant across countries and cultures. This is what I found problematic about Mr. Tejano’s blog entry. His main thesis is that Un Prophete reflects the “larger social realities of contemporary French society.” While this may prove to be a practical judgment for the French state to consider in efforts to resolve ethnic conflicts among various immigrant groups, it does not say something about similar problems encountered elsewhere. Sure, the film can arguably ignite discussions regarding the conditions of local minorities in France, most notably the growing Muslim community, but what of the indigenous people’s situation here in the Philippines? Some might find it absurd that I am juxtaposing the political influence of a foreign film to local issues – especially if it is intrinsically clear that it was made for its native country – but I argue that there has got to be some way in making sense of the narrative such that it would deal with struggles that aren’t particular of any country. How then does Un Prophete, as a viable tool for political socialization, contribute to significant discourses on ethnic identity and discrimination?
Allow me to employ a neo-Marxist framework, specifically class analysis, in deconstructing the film. Before anything else, it should be made clear that class analysis is not solely grounded on the principle of economic determinism. In a film whose main characters are primarily defined by their ethnicities, social capital is as equally important as economic capital. This would especially be applicable since their class origins cannot be immediately inferred from the story line. It is therefore imperative to ask questions such as: Who has the means to acquire special privileges? Who has the ability to manipulate the system for their own gains? Who inherently has the social status which affords them of undue advantages? Obviously, in the case of Un Prophete, it is the mafia of Corsicans led by the infamous Caesar Luciani. It is this group which can be considered as the ruling class. Consequently, Malik Djebena, who is mistakenly identified as an Arab but is actually of North African descent, is part of the oppressed class that is the Muslim community.

Mico Quijano said...

PART II

The film begins when an illiterate Malik is sent to prison due to charges vaguely specified. He struggles to conveniently place himself in a hostile environment, constantly dealing with cruel treatment and unjust orders from the members of the Corsican mobsters. Towards the end, he successfully breaks ties from the Corsicans, in effect successfully freeing himself from all the harsh conditions he was subjected to. In the process, he was also able to come into terms and eventually embrace his identity as a Muslim.
While the themes may present as rather unconventional, the story line remains to be essentially formulaic, conforming to traditional elements of plot development in mainstream cinema. The main character faces a major predicament in the beginning, and successfully conquers it by the end of the film. However, were the grassroots conditions which led him to encounter the same dilemma resolved? Malik may have been able to salvage himself from the ruthless conditions partially brought about by his ethic origins, but what of the events and circumstances which led him to prison in the first place? If he weren’t illiterate, would he have committed whatever charges he was accused of? If he had the opportunity to advance economically from wherever his roots were located, would he have moved to the city to search for greener pastures? The point is the film portrayed an individual struggle. It did not necessarily address the real problems of the bigger picture. Malik Djebena may have had his share of happy endings, but the Muslim community in which he is part of didn’t. In the history of world cinema, I urge you to notice how the same story is told over and over again, and ask why is this so.

therese said...

Part 1

For a film which the director claims "has no message," Jacques Audiard's Un Prophète seems to say a lot, covering themes ranging from racism to corruption to morality. And, in a film that is an intensely emotional experience for the audience rather than a mere thing to watch, every point is indeed striking.

From one angle, the film seems to be a very effective microcosmic portrayal of emerging socio-political realities in France. From this view Malik El Djebena and his often harrowing prison experience is a representation of the experiences of a growing Muslim community that has to deal with deceptively assimilating but intolerant state policies and the French society’s xenophobia. On the other hand, the prison, as mentioned above, is a symbol of state power, and unlike the Corsicans who were pretty ostentatious about displaying that they had the upper hand, the prison walls were a pervasive structure, silent and omnipresent, supervisory and imposing as the French prison guards in the film.

As much as the film Un Prophète is seemingly an effective portrayal of French socio-political conditions, however, such an assessment can be seen as drawn from the context in which the plot is placed, that is, contemporary France, in a time where the influx of different races and cultures has led to political turmoil. Yet digging a bit more deeply into Malik’s story, it can be argued that the story is a story that need not be exclusive to France; one could place the setting in another country still have the plot work – this time operating in the contexts of that other country. Maybe the characters’ names would be different, and the underdogs might not be Muslims, but the essence of the plot would still be present.

therese said...

Part 2


In this sense I agree with the comment that a prison is a prison, and regardless of where it is situated, more or less the same conflicts would inevitably arise. This idea was to me one of the most disturbing that this film has generated. To pick up Ms. Tiangco’s point, prison sentences are supposed to serve as mechanisms for justice to be delivered, and at the same time constitute an attempt at rehabilitation. And yet what chance for rehabilitation is there in an institution that is in the first place extremely dehumanizing? The film to me powerfully leads the audience to witness the growth – or perhaps deterioration – of a young man in a span of six years. Perhaps what makes it compelling is that we witness two sides of that development, as we watch Malik make his way through the dangers of prison life, gaining courage, cunning, and ultimately developing his own sense of self. At what expense does he gain all these? The film also leads us to his slow and steady descent, starting from his agonizing first murder to his cold-blooded revenge. What makes it even more compelling, though, might just be the fact that such things happen in the confines of a place sanctioned by the ideals of justice.

Perhaps another notable idea that this film presents is the notion of politics and power, in general. Politics is loosely defined as the distribution of resources. In the film it was pretty evident that Luciani and the Corsicans were the ones who had control of the resources, and hence control within the prison. Even the prison guards let them do as they pleased. At some point in the film, however, I began to ask – what’s the point? All the characters were in prison anyway, and despite the fact that the Corsicans enjoyed certain privileges such as more comfortable amenities, and Malik avoided beatings, it still seemed a bleak life to live, confined within stone walls and metal bars. Here the film becomes particularly effective – despite the intense tempo, there were a good number of times when I had wanted the film to end, having been watching every excruciatingly brutal thing happen in the isolation of cells and walls. It was because that very sense of isolation sent me the message that without a more profound purpose, without any direction or channelling to a larger social context, power can be pretty pointless. Luciani shows it can even be pathetic, standing in contrast to how Malik uses his newfound influence to further the interests of his fellow Muslims. And so I end this commentary with an argument. As much as morality here is seemingly justifiably sacrificed for the sake of survival, at the end of the day, does that kind of survival really make sense? Does the kind of power the Corsicans have make any sense? In some petty ways, perhaps it does. But it must never be neglected that in each and every situation these characters faced, they were never mere victims of circumstance. Malik’s story – his rise to power – is an empowering testament to human capacity.

-Therese Buergo

Ginx Petterson said...

Who is Malik el Djebena?
An answer to that may be that he is a 19-year-old boy thrown in prison for a sentence of six years, first starting out at the bottom of the prison political food chain and eventually becoming a mafia leader himself—a true but quite too simple answer at that.
After watching the film, Un Prophète, one experiences way too many emotions. At least that’s how it was for me. This complexity is as intricate at the motifs embedded in the film. Though there are significantly much more recognizable themes like, as Mr. Tejano says, the politics of identity (or the lack of) and prison power relations, the details of the many scenes are laced with a gold mine of ideas just waiting to be explored, from its set up as a micro-French state to crime and corruption to institutions to plain and simple survival.
Yet what I find myself fixated on is still identity. Djebena began as a character without one (and mind you, it did not seem to matter at all to him then), and was eventually forced to choose a side, the Corsicans, for protection. For a while he found a place among them, especially with them allowing him to share in on some “perks” from the outside. Sure, he had to kill someone so he could have a quick niche in his new environment, but it was clear from day one, that it was kill or be killed. Take someone else’s shoes, or have someone else take yours. Being on the Corsicans’ side allowed him free day passes. These were used for Caesar Luciani’s biddings, but we notice from these trips that when asked on who’s side he was supposed to be on (as Luciani’s “business partners” would point out that Djebena did not look like a Corsican), he would say that he was loyal to himself.
But who was that exactly? Not even knowing if he spoke French or Arabic first, I feel that his hesitance to fully affiliate himself (and when I say “fully”, I mean that he believes in this for himself) with either side was an excuse to pull back from the reality that he had no solid identity.
The Corsicans did not treat him the same way they treated their fellow Corsicans though, and this was, for me, what eventually facilitated how things would turn out in the end. The Muslims had extended familial-like concern for him, wanting him to learn and grow as an individual, learning how to read and whatnot, while the Corsicans provided him with food and clothing, and yes, opportunities as well, but nothing that involved his welfare.
Ms. Tiangco said it best that “his loyalty to a particular race is a self-serving means of being at the right side of the fight at the right time.” I am led to ask then, is the purpose of identity one of self-service, such that we are who we are at a particular time because we need to be?
The definition of “identity” has been quite delved into by the academe, though its purpose, much less, as political scientists have avoided the concept much to its being quite unclear, leading to undeveloped analysis of an identity’s political consequences as the definition may be stretched to fill in a study’s needs (Fearon, 1999).
The film proposes, through Djebena’s story, that identity may not necessarily be always a means of “self-service”, but it can certainly be a choice. And such a choice carries with it implications, social and political, that one should be prepared to accept.

References:
Fearon, James. (1999, November 3). What is Identity (as we use the word)?. Retrieved July 13, 2011, from Stanford University: http://www.stanford.edu/~jfearon/papers/iden1v2.pdf

Franco said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Franco said...

1/2
Arguably, a film that emphasizes power relations in tradition of The Godfather and Good Fellas, boasting its Grand Prix award in 2009, is Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet (French title: Un Prophéte) a crime-drama film that deconstructs the power dynamics at work in prison and in the “free” world.

The film has been effective in projecting the protagonist Malik’s experiences of animosity while in prison because of his North African roots and the endeavors that he has to face to be victorious of the animosity acts as an analogy for the endeavors of Muslims across France. The film’s most commonly mentioned theme is prison power-relations so let’s digest the film in another perspective. The other theme that should be tackled is the concept of multiculturalism.

Andrew Heywood identifies two types of multiculturalism: "the term ‘multiculturalism’ has been used in a variety of ways, both descriptive and normative. As a descriptive term, it has been taken to refer to cultural diversity … As a normative term, multiculturalism implies a positive endorsement, even celebration, of communal diversity, typically based on either the right of different groups to respect and recognition, or to the alleged benefits to the larger society of moral and cultural diversity.”

But which is which? Of the 65 million people who currently reside in France, nearly 5 million of them are Arab. While Muslims occupy only 3 out of the possible 577 seats in France’s National Assembly. Clearly, these digits show a case of underrepresentation. Though the French state boasts its slogan, liberté, égalité, fraternité, its North African citizens could be shouting otherwise. Why? Who would forget the banning of the use of veils and other Islamic dress in French state schools in 2004? The last related news narrates the plans of the French Parliament to legislate a policy that would ban the the Muslim women’s burqa, from many public places in France. But us Filipinos are not alien to this situation.

Franco said...

2/2
A related concept is multiethnicity. A multiethnic society is one with members belonging to more than one ethnic group, in contrast to societies which are ethnically homogenous. In practice, virtually all contemporary national societies are multiethnic. According to K. Yeoh’s Index of Ethnic Fractionalization, the Philippines is the 8th most multiethnic nation in the world. Our country has 10 distinct major indigenous ethnic groups mainly the Bicolano, Ibanag, Ilocano, Ivatan, Kapampangan, Moro, Pangasinense, Sambal, Tagalog and Visayan. Aside from our aboriginal races such as the Badjao, Igorot, Lumad, Mangyan and Negritos, we also have bountiful communities of American, Arabic, Chinese, Indian, and Hispanic descent, and other ethnicities from other countries due to colonization, trading, migration and other related factors.

Multiculturalism and multiethnicity has branched out to two exactly opposite schemes. On one hand, these concepts could promote interactions of cultures the give way for the communication and interaction of cultures and thus lead to assimiliation and the like. On the other hand, these concepts could also lead to isolation to preserve the uniqueness of a certain culture towards a “global cultural diversity.”

However, after much introspection, we could induce that these two schemes are not at all exclusive of one another—as it was effectively portrayed in the film that the two schemes of multiculturalism and multiethnicity have various manifestations in the same society, or in the this case, the prison. As a matter of fact, the seemingly opposing schemes could actually complement each other to create a point when a culture epitomizes ideologies and relationships of individual cultures. The Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortiz even coined the term “Transculturation” to denote a “transaction of one culture with another” while M.L. Pratt coined the “contact zone” to describe cultural clashes and operations. Hence, cultures are not only interacted or isolated. While these two schemes work at the same time, the film leads us to contemplate that multiculturalism is more than just “multi” the focus is more on “culture” and this eventually gives viewers a multi-dimensional understanding of the dynamics of cultural interaction, the idleness of cultural isolation and the paradox between these two extremes.