TELLURIDE: ‘Red Riding,’ ‘A Prophet’

Posted by · 10:46 am · September 7th, 2009

Tamar Rahim in A ProphetThings are winding down in Telluride.  I saw the last film I’ll see here last night (Jacques Audiard’s “A Prophet”) and have a few things to square away before I hop the shuttle for Montrose and, finally, the flight back to Los Angeles.

The fest has been a low key delight.  An IFC-sponsored dinner Saturday night brought out a number of the principals from films on display (where I had fun throwing back a few and discussing “that moment” when you decide film will be your life with “Red Riding” producer Andrew Eaton).  Nicolas Cage was strolling the streets last night with his kid, free of the usual adoring mob.  Jason Reitman, Viggo Mortensen, Paul Schneider, Carey Mulligan, etc. have made themselves available for interviews, priming the pump for Oscar season.  Good times all around.

The big winners of the fest, from what I can gather from conversations with a number of attendees, are Michael Hoffman’s “The Last Station,” Todd Solondz’s “Life During Wartime” and, of course, Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air,” among others.  Unfortunately, I missed (again) Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon” and a number of the once-in-a-lifetime screenings from Alexander Payne’s program, but I had a full, enjoyable time regardless.  I have a few more interviews to get to today, but I thought I’d rattle off the last pair of capsule reviews before I head off into town for some meet-and-greets.

“Red Riding” (***)

I’m really not sure where Guardian critic David Thomson is coming from when, in this year’s Telluride program, he states flatly, “‘Red Riding’ is better than ‘The Godfather.'”  The declaration puts this British-produced trilogy, which originally aired on UK television earlier this year and was well-received by Guy at the time, firmly in the legendary film writer’s top 10 films of all time.

If it sounds like a stretch, that’s because it is.  And I think the films may have suffered a disservice by this hyperbolic appreciation.  I’m considering the trilogy as a whole for the purposes of rating/reviewing, but each was made by a different filmmaker, with different techniques, from Super 16 to 35mm to RED digital.  The Julian Jarrold-helmed “Red Riding 1974” is, for my money, the most accomplished of the lot, but the overlying saga ultimately falls a bit flat regardless due to a sense of derivation and contrivance.

Andrew Garfield is certainly aces in the first installment as a cock-sure journalist on the trail of police corruption in Yorkshire England.  Paddy Considine, meanwhile, puts forth an authentic portrayal in James Marsh’s “Red Riding 1980,” while Anaud Tucker’s “Red Riding 1983,” which pulls the story’s many threads together, is somewhat forgettable from frame one.

All of that said, the effort is unique and appreciated for that.  Jarrold’s film helps to elevate the trilogy’s worth considerably and is creatively throughout.  And Rebecca Hall gives an awards-worthy performance opposite Garfield.  But it really is downhill (though not exactly a steep drop-off) from there.

“A Prophet” (***1/2)

Jacques Audiard’s Cannes sensation “A Prophet” is likely to draw comparisons to the greatest of crime cinema — “Goodfellas,” the recent “Gomorrah” — but while it may not be quite up to that level, it succeeds as a naturalistic examination of an Arab inmate’s rise to power behind bars.  Similar efforts have clung to narrative above (though certainly not in spite of) character, but “A Prophet” uses character to drive the drama.

Leading the cast as Malik El Djebena is Tahar Rahim, a shock to the system with the most lived-in portrayal of the year and, in a perfect world, a shoo-in for awards consideration.  The peaks and valleys of his life in a French prison are effortlessly conveyed as if he were recounting his life story.  Meanwhile, Niels Arestrup (also seen at Telluride in Christian Carion’s “Farewell”), brings a seething, unsettling air of intensity to the role of inside kingpin César Luciani.

The film features a loose (some might say labyrinthine) structure that allows it to breathe, but is nevertheless pieced together with a tension that tightens things up where necessary.  Audiard brings a gentleness to the film as well, offering artistic strokes of storytelling genius throughout that put his work near the top of the year’s better offerings.  Stéphane Fontaine’s soft photography, meanwhile, captures prison life in an unfussy manner, adding to the impact of the social realism on display.

→ 14 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Reviews

14 responses so far

  • 1 9-07-2009 at 10:57 am

    Matthew said...

    I quite enjoyed the Red Riding Series. I agree that Jarrold’s “1974” is the best of the three, and certainly elevates the trilogy as a whole. Though I think the weakest is definitely James Marsh’s film. Paddy Considine’s performance is pretty weak, his line delivery pretty static – shocking since I often enjoy Considine immensely. Anand Tucker’s film I think brings it back up, though not to the level of Jarrold’s. I think David Morrissey and Mark Addy are both quite good in Tucker’s film.

  • 2 9-07-2009 at 11:08 am

    Joel said...

    I recently watched Audiard’s “The Beat That My Heart Skipped” and loved it. Makes me excited for “A Prophet.” Kris, what did you think of “Beat,” or have you seen it (assuming you have, but still)? And is it in the same arena as Audiard’s newest? I still need to see “Read My Lips” and “A Self-Made Hero” from him.

    Oh and unrelated completely, but the poll regarding the “Avatar” trailer is split exactly down the middle, at 259-259. Amazing. First time that’s happened, from my vantage point. Which is pretty good, since I’ve read this site since November of 2006.

  • 3 9-07-2009 at 11:17 am

    Loyal said...

    “that moment” when you decide film will be your life

    And that moment for you Kris was…

  • 4 9-07-2009 at 11:19 am

    John said...

    Kris, if you’ve seen it, what are your thoughts on ‘The Last Station’? It’s Oscar chances, etc.?

  • 5 9-07-2009 at 11:24 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Loyal: When I saw Heat and The Usual Suspects and discovered that you could do much more with a movie than entertain.

    John: I wrote about The Last Station Friday, actually:

    Joel: Unfortunately, I never saw “Beat.” I will. Soon.

  • 6 9-07-2009 at 12:41 pm

    red_wine said...

    Gosh you missed The White Ribbon! Its almost been raised to mystical proportions with the lavish praise being heaped on it.

  • 7 9-07-2009 at 1:33 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    “The Beat That My Heart Skipped” is STUNNING.

  • 8 9-07-2009 at 4:21 pm

    Joseph B. said...

    I’m curious… what were some of the titles in Payne’s “once in a lifetime” retrospective?

  • 9 9-07-2009 at 4:58 pm

    Joel said...

    Guy: I agree completely. One of the best offerings 2005 had in store. I couldn’t believe I’d never seen it, as it was right up my alley. I’m psyched to watch Audiard’s other films now. He’s got some kind of a wonderful style about his direction. And wouldn’t you agree that Romain Duris was nothing short of amazing?

  • 10 9-07-2009 at 5:09 pm

    Chris said...

    I might have said this before, but if you loved “The Beat That My Heart Skipped”, “A Prophet”‘s going to blow your mind. I thought it deserves best of the year honours so far.

    (As far as I can tell from what I was able to see in mainland Europe… back to the UK next week, hooray.)

  • 11 9-07-2009 at 7:09 pm

    Chase Kahn said...

    Kris, what’s the distribution/release story with “Red Riding”? If any…

  • 12 9-08-2009 at 2:20 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Chase: IFC got the U.S. rights back in May, and is going to do their usual theatrical/VOD thing in the fall, apparently.

    Joel: Yeah, he’s terrific. It’s a shame he hasn’t got quite that level of showcase since. (In this week’s “Persecution,” for example, he has little to do but skulk around moodily, though he does it well.) And if you haven’t caught up with Audiard’s other work yet, you have a treat in store.

  • 13 9-08-2009 at 4:25 am

    Danny said...

    Really psyched to see A Prophet. I’ve been anticipating that one since it debuted at Cannes…Glad to hear you liked it.

  • 14 9-08-2009 at 9:38 pm

    sami said...

    If RED RIDING is so great why hasn’t it played Berlin, Cannes or Toronto? It’s playing NYFF but I’m skeptical.