‘A Prophet’ wins top prize at London Film Festival

Posted by · 4:50 pm · October 28th, 2009

Tahar Rahim (right) in A ProphetI always knew Anjelica Huston and I were of a like mind. As I reflect on the 60-odd films I’ve seen the London Film Festival, which draws to a close tomorrow, Jacques Audiard’s French Oscar contender “A Prophet” stands comfortably taller than anything else I’ve seen … and given the standard of this year’s LFF lineup, that’s no back-handed compliment.

Ms. Huston clearly agrees: at a ceremony tonight, together with the other five members of her jury (a rum bunch including Charlotte Rampling, Matthieu Kassovitz and Jarvis Cocker), she handed “A Prophet” the festival’s inaugural Best Film award (alternatively named the Star of London). It triumphed over eight other shortlisted titles, including its Cannes conqueror “The White Ribbon.” Huston said of Audiard’s film:

A masterpiece: “Un Prophete” has the ambition, purity of vision and clarity of purpose to make it an instant classic.  With seamless and imaginative story-telling, superb performances and universal themes, Jacques Audiard has made a perfect film.”

“The Road,” interestingly enough, was given a runner-up “special mention” by the jury, despite its continued mixed reception. John Hillcoat’s film was singled out for its “breathtaking vision, extraordinary performances and profound political statement.”

The Best Film award is one of two new honors added to this years festival. The second, Best British Newcomer, was awarded to screenwriter Jack Thorne for “The Scouting Book for Boys,” a coming-of-age drama that was one of the most well-regarded selections in the festival’s wildly uneven New British Cinema sidebar. (I’m sorry to say I missed it. Same goes for writer-director J. Blakeson’s thriller “The Disappearance of Alice Creed,” which received a special mention.)

Meanwhile, the festival’s more longstanding awards prevailed. Previously the LFF’s highest-profile gong, the Southerland Trophy, went to another Oscar contender I was just discussing, Yaron Shani and Scandar Copti’s Israeli-Palestinian crime drama “Ajami.”

The award’s definition has changed since its inception in 1958, though it currently recognises the festival’s strongest debut feature. The roll-call of previous winners is impressive, ranging from “Tokyo Story” to “The Conformist” to “You Can Count on Me” to “Persepolis.” Among the shortlisted films that “Ajami” beat to the honor are “Samson and Delilah” (which took the equivalent prize at Cannes) and “Lebanon,” the film it also edged out as Israel’s Oscar submission.

Israeli cinema, in fact, had a very good night in London, as Yoav Shamir’s “Defamation” took the festival’s Grierson Award for documentaries. The film, a study of modern-day anti-Semitism that I’m also afraid to say I didn’t catch, won ahead of such buzzy festival titles as “Mugabe and the White African” and “La Danse.”

But the talk here is all about Jacques Audiard’s masterpiece: a relatively uncontroversial choice as the festival’s first official best-in-show, but one that quite aptly serves the festival’s twin goals of bringing global arthouse cinema to a public audience, as well as raising their profile by spotlighting already buzzy titles. It may be a slightly decorative award for the moment, but at least they got it right.

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13 responses so far

  • 1 10-28-2009 at 4:54 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    you guys shouldnt be so quick to disregard the road, i think its gonna be a huge populis hit, ala no country

  • 2 10-28-2009 at 6:19 pm

    david said...

    For what it’s worth, The Road is currently sitting at 88% on Rotten Tomatoes. I think that’s a bit better then “mixed” which would suggest something in the 50% range.

  • 3 10-28-2009 at 6:52 pm

    red_wine said...

    I’m frankly not surprised, infact even expected A Prophet to win. But The Road mention seems a bit out of the blue. It has mostly received a pretty meh reaction.

    Props to the festival but their short-list still consisted of widely seen titles many of which were already highly acclaimed. If maybe they can secure more world premieres in the future and have them compete, their award might become big.

  • 4 10-28-2009 at 9:01 pm

    Flosh said...

    60 films! wow, man. that’s damned impressive.

  • 5 10-28-2009 at 9:18 pm

    Michael said...

    wait a second, I got stopped at 60 films too. That seems impossible, I don’t think I have even seen 60 films this year. Dude, how did you pull that off? That is mighty impressive, and a tad mind-numbing to think of sitting that long in a theater, but someone has to do it, so it might as well be you.

    Oh and I can’t wait to see A Prophet, I remember that it was the movie to beat at Cannes (which it was by The White Ribbon – another must see on my list) so it is always good to hear that a film you are interested is winning awards and deserving them. I agree with with red_wine that the LFF needs to find away to distinguish itself more b/c the shortlist had great movies, but most had already been awarded at other festivals so it seems a little after the fact.

  • 6 10-28-2009 at 9:21 pm

    Michael said...

    oh another thing, I assume you saw Nowhere Boy, and am curious about what you thought of the film (I don’t know if you were planning to write up a review later or not)? How was the score by Goldfrapp? (They are one of my all time favorite bands and I am so excited that the created music for a film like that.)

  • 7 10-28-2009 at 9:29 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Bear in mind that two weeks of pre-screenings precede the actual festival, so they haven’t all been squeezed into a single fortnight. Still, it is a thoroughly unsensible amount of time to spend in a movie theatre, and my bum knee is not grateful for it!

    Nowhere Boy screens tomorrow morning.

  • 8 10-28-2009 at 10:05 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    Guy, perhaps [i]The Road[/i] is gearing up to be the [i]Changeling[/i] of this year? Slightly panned in America, but well-received in your homeland?

  • 9 10-28-2009 at 10:35 pm

    Matthew said...

    I’ve been meaning to watch that movie. A Prophet. Must watch “A Prophet.” Put it on my list of things to do.

  • 10 10-28-2009 at 10:52 pm

    matthew2 said...

    The Road doesn’t seem to be getting a mixed reception from anyone other than you and the variety clown. All else I read is positive.

  • 11 10-29-2009 at 1:40 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Ebert doesn’t like it, I seem to recall, which I thought was interesting.

  • 12 10-29-2009 at 12:54 pm

    Lance said...

    I agree about “The Road” – I think it’s getting a bad reputation for no apparent reason. Variety and Ebert are the only negative reviews I saw.

  • 13 10-29-2009 at 7:07 pm

    Marshall1 said...

    Let’s just assume The Road is not great, but will that stop the Academy from nominating it since its expansion to 10 BP? Also, this year might seem to have less contenders (but don’t we say that almost every year…lol)