To my mind – and many others – Audiard is France’s best filmmaker in modern times. His work first came to my attention when I was at school. We were studying the Nazi occupation of France and our teacher made us watch Un héros très discret (A Self Made Hero).
Audiard’s screenplay about a nobody who passes himself off as a WWII Resistance hero had me captivated all the way to the tense end. His cinematography taught me that cinema truly was le septième art and that it was an art form that didn’t necessarily need a titanic budget (it was Leo and Kate’s love story that dominated screens that year) to impress.
Later I was spellbound by his De battre mon coeur s’est arrêté (The Beat that My Heart Skipped), a thriller about a musical prodigy who gets caught up in the murky world of real estate. It was one of those films that stayed with you a long time after leaving the cinema. Certain images were etched in my mind but above all I couldn’t stop thinking about the main character.
It is Audiard’s heroes – or, I should say, anti-heroes – that make his films so compelling. Yes, his films are stylishly shot. Yes, the plot grabs you and doesn’t let you go. But it is as psychological portraits that his films become masterpieces.
Perhaps it is because Audiard is both screenwriter and director that he is able to create such powerful characters. Taking up the mantle of director/auteur from Truffaut and the rest of the Nouvelle Vague, he brings together visual and script to explore the identity of someone on the edge of society, an outsider whose inner flaws will bring about their own downfall.
Telling the story of an illiterate young arab’s transformation in a tough French prison, A Prophet promises to be equally hard-hitting and equally memorable. It’s won a bucket of awards (including a Grand Prix at Cannes and Best Film at the London Film Festival) and huge amounts of praise from the critics. (It’s got an amazing 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.)
I’m hoping to catch an advance preview this Wednesday at the BFI (I think there’s still tickets), where it’s being screened as part of an Audiard and French thriller season this month. I’ll let you know if it lives up to expectations.
Also on show as part of the season are A Self Made Hero (January 15) and The Beat that My Heart Skipped (January 11 & 20), which I thoroughly recommend. For a full list of the BFI’s programme click here.