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Like every other francophile and film buff in town I’m getting excited in the run up to the UK release of Jacques Audiard’s new film, Un prophète (A Prophet).

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.

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Take a look at this promo video a French friend sent me. If you watch it through you’ll notice something strange. It’s meant to be a video crossing linguistic and cultural barriers – by the youth of Europe for the youth of Europe – urging them to vote in the European elections.

Yet the British are conspicuously absent. The English subtitles and a few good attempts by (my guess is) a Scandinavian at an English accent cannot mask the fact that our fellow countryman have not got involved in this project.

From my experience of living in France, Brits have a bad reputation when it comes to politics. According to the stereotype, we’re too busy drinking tea to get down to the polling booth.  

Poor British turnout in the 1999 European elections seemed to confirm this. Just under 23% of us voted, compared with the 50% of Europeans who cast their ballots.

Our performance in the last European elections was, however, much better, with 39% of Brits turning out.  In 2004 we showed Europe that, although are feelings towards it are often at best ambivalent, we at least cared enough to have a say on its policies. Unlike France, there has actually been an upward trend in Britain in voter turnout in the European elections.

Whatever the reasons for us not being involved in Five Friends for Europe campaign, we can still show our amis across the channel that we’re politically engaged enough to vote in the EU elections.

Still unsure? Try votematch – a quick online questionnaire which works out which parties you agree with most by getting you to click “agree” or “disagree” to different policy statements. Even if it doesn’t throw up the party your heart tells you to vote for, at will at least get you thinking about the issues.

See you at the polling station…

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