There hasn't been a film by Jacques Audiard that I haven't liked, so there was a pretty good chance that the third film by him that I'd be seeing, A Prophet, would probably live up to expectations.
In the film Read My Lips (Sur Mes Lèvres), he constructed a clever noirish story about a woman who is almost deaf and has lip-reading skills. Beautifully shot and with a great central performance by Emmanuelle Devos, it's intimate and surprising with a plot that twists and turns.
The Beat That My Heart Skipped (De battre mon coeur s'est arrêté) focusses on a man who must decide between a life of crime and his dream to become a concert pianist. With an electric performance by Romain Duris, it takes the unlikely combination of crime and music and builds another surprising story about fascinating characters.
With A Prophet, Audiard has another great cast with interesting characters, but this time it's set mainly in a French prison and again it subverts expectations with a plot that is not completely predictable. We watch a young Arab man (brilliantly played by Tahar Rahim) who enters the prison system and negotiates his way through the complex world of gangs and alliances over a period of years. Bringing elements of magical realism into the story it combines the violent and brutal world of prison life with another layer that adds a poetry and beauty to the story.
On one level it's the story of a man who gradually changes into someone else, but during the film it's a constant series of small and beautiful revelations that combine into a compelling story. We're taken on a journey with our hero (or anti-hero) as he faces challenges from those who judge him based on prejudice and the lessons that he learns along the way. It's a story of friendship, loyalty and survival, beautifully shot and constructed.