Reviews

A Prophet (Un prophète)

Jesse Hicks

A Prophet follows Malik’s struggle not just for mere existence, but also for individual identity in a world where a man alone is nothing.


A Prophet

Director: Jacques Audiard
Cast: Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup, Adel Bencherif, Hichem Yacoubi, Reda Kateb, Jean-Philippe Ricci
Rated: R
Studio: Sony Classics
Year: 2009
US date: 2010-02-26 (Limited release)
UK date: 2010-01-22 (General release)
Website
Trailer
Straddling everyone. It's not too great on your balls.

-- Brahim Lattrache (Slimane Dazi)

A Prophet (Un prophète) begins in darkness. A small portal of light appears, gradually revealing the handcuffed, bruised, and disheveled Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim). A prison admissions officer tells him, “You’re an adult now. You go to the joint. You’re in with the big guys.” In the eyes of the state, the 19-year-old is an adult, fit for adult punishment. He has no home, no friends, relatives or enemies (inside the prison or out), and he can barely sign his own name. He’s stripped naked and sent inside.

Malik's is a body without human rights, exiled from the state’s protection into the realm of the “big guys.” His survival depends on his ability to find a place among them. A Prophet follows Malik’s struggle not just for mere existence, but also for individual identity in a world where a man alone is nothing. Here, uneven fluorescent lighting bleaches the color from everything, especially human faces. The walls are institutional blue and sea-foam green, mostly grey with grime. Nothing, especially prisoner’s uniforms, looks clean. Every shot shows evidence of long-term neglect. The handheld camerawork conveys the men's jittery paranoia -- or the perpetual vigilance they've learned in order to live.

The lord of this kingdom is Cesar Luciani (Niels Arestrup), a Corsican crime boss running his syndicate from inside the prison. A small band of fellow Corsicans still supports him, and he has bought off guards and lawyers. But his power has waned as he's aged. Arestrup subtly plays a once-potent man whose rage now barely conceals his bewilderment and fear; when he warns Malik that he needs "friends," he's also talking about himself. In an especially poignant scene, Luciani consults a lawyer who says he’ll never leave prison. As the words sink in, the old Corsican looks out the window, his eye lingering on the dead leaves pressed against the sill.

Even in his decline, Luciani makes decisions as to who lives and dies. He makes Malik an offer he can’t refuse: kill another inmate, Reyeb (Hichem Yacoubi), in exchange for protection. "Just remember: now that you're in on it, if you don't kill him,” Luciani declares, “I kill you." Pale and shaking, Malik carries out the bloody murder, earning Luciani’s protection, but not his respect. The Corsicans see him as an outsider: he doesn’t speak their language or share their blood. As ambitious and wily as Malik may be, he remains liminal, never quite an Arab (speaking Arabic but not associating with other Arabs), never quite Corsican (protected by them, but treated as a servant).

As he is rejected, Malik also rejects group affiliations, assuming a sort of fictional independence. But, Luciani reminds him, he doesn't get to decide who he is: “You have Luciani written all over your face. People look at you and they see me." It's clear too that Malik reacts out of his own distrust and anger. When a Muslim asks for help from the Corsicans, Malik asks why he should bother. What can the Muslim offer him? "Brotherhood," the Muslim replies. Malik shoots back, “So I should make up for being their slave by being yours?"

In his isolation, the film suggests Malik has an inexplicable "holiness." He consorts with the spirit of Reyeb, whose death initiated Malik's transformation from homo sacer to big guy. His experience is framed by spiritual allusions that remain vague: he spends 40 days and 40 nights in solitary confinement, he has a murky dream-premonition that later saves his life, and he survives a close encounter with several bullets. As much as these events justify the film’s title, they are also underdeveloped, if not irrelevant. This added (and occasionally distracting) dimension is unnecessary. Malik remains a profoundly compelling enigma, an effect created in large part by Rahim's multi-layered performance. At the film’s conclusion, Malik remains alone and unknown, his face filling the screen one more time, large and unreadable.

7

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60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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