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Is 'A Prophet's' Tahar Rahim the next Al Pacino?

March 2, 2010 | 12:37 pm

Rahim

As The Times’ Kenneth Turan so ably points out in his review of the Cannes Film Festival-anointed gangster-drama “A Prophet” (“Un Prophète”), the movie was already a “phenomenon” even before it arrived in the U.S. last week.

One of five nominees currently in the running for a best foreign language film Oscar, the baroque and enthralling French prison movie -- which follows a 19-year-old French Arab sentenced to six years of hard time in a Parisian prison, where he rises through the ranks of power in the Corsican mafia -- picked up a British BAFTA award and a Golden Globe nomination, while a “Sight & Sound” poll of 60 critics around the world named “A Prophet” 2009’s best film.

55-a-prophet-poster-trailerintro Art house audiences have apparently taken notice of that groundswell of international critic love. In limited release, booked in only nine theaters across North America, the movie grossed a robust $170,000 over its opening weekend.

Central to that kind of box-office mojo here and around the world has been “A Prophet’s” young star, newcomer Tahar Rahim. The 28-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent won two Cesars (the French equivalent to the Oscars) for best actor and most promising actor over the weekend (the film also won for best picture and best director).

And in review after glowing review, Rahim has been compared to no less than a young Al Pacino in the first installment of Francis Ford Coppola’s “Godfather” trilogy. In their respective roles, both leading men burst onto the screen exuding a kind of physical meekness that belies the force of character their characters come to embody as mob dons. Never mind that Rahim’s highest-profile project to date had been a role in “La Commune,” a French miniseries with a beyond negligible Q-rating in the States -- his “Prophet” role is the kind of breakthrough star turn that’s sure to be thrown even more into dramatic focus come Oscar weekend.

For his part, the actor rejects the comparison out of hand, exclaiming (in heavily accented Franglais in a recent interview with 24 Frames): “It’s too much. People are using comparisons that are not possible. This guy has changed so much in cinema and I’ve just made one movie. He’s a genius.”

But according to “A Prophet's” writer-director, the French crime genre maestro Jacques Audiard (“The Beat That My Heart Skipped,” “Read My Lips”),  who interviewed 40 actors before giving Rahim the role and, moreover, who is credited with handing such French dramatic stalwarts as Vincent Cassel  breakthrough parts -- Rahim’s ambiguous ethnicity and pronounced youthfulness gave him a leg up on the competition.

“There’s a very juvenile quality to him,” said Audiard (who, interestingly enough, calls the movie his "anti-'Scarface' "). “And he’s not physically very Arabic. He’s not an exact Arabic type. He could be Spanish. He’s a very young actor and he had to learn a lot for a very complicated part that was hard to make realistic.” (You can read more about Audiard's process making "A Prophet" in this recent Sunday Calendar story.)

Then, consider who’s got Rahim’s back in Hollywood. On the heels of “A Prophet’s” grand jury prize win at Cannes last May, he signed with Creative Artists Agency’s international movie star specialist Hylda Queally. The Irish-born industry heavyweight is currently responsible for stewarding the careers of such global movie icons as Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard and Cate Blanchett, among others.

For his next project, “The Eagle of the Ninth," directed by “The Last King of Scotland” helmer Kevin Macdonald, Rahim changed gears to appear opposite Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell. “I’m the baddie,” Rahim said between drags of on a Camel Light, seated in the Beverly Hills back yard of the French consul general. “He’s the prince of an ancient Gallic tribe. I’m talking in ancient Gallic -- it was hard.”

And last week, the actor signed on to appear in "Bitch," the romantic-drama from one of China's most controversial directors, Lou Ye. The film reportedly follows a Frenchman (Rahim) whose Chinese lover follows him to Paris, leading to "an intense love addiction." Shooting is set to begin this month with an eye toward landing a spot in the Cannes 2011 line-up.

Rahim described his experience on “A Prophet” as having given him the chance to grow up, “emotionally, professionally, in every way.” And Rahim said he would have no compunction about reprising his role as Malik El Djebena in the all but inevitable sequel.

“I would like to work again with Jacques,” Rahim said, cracking into a huge smile at the thought. “If it’s another time with Malik’s character, that would be great. Me too -- I would like to know what happens to him!”

-- Chris Lee

Photo: Tahar Rahim in "A Prophet." Credit: Image.net


 
Comments () | Archives (10)

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“And he’s not physically very Arabic. He’s not an exact Arabic type. He could be Spanish. "

Ah, I see now. I guess he just doesn't fit the ugly French stereotype of an Arab, but Mr. Rahim looks pretty Arab to me.

Sophie: Turn off your computer, and stop being in so much pain.

Let's not get too carried away here...the guy is clearly off to a great start as an actor, but labeling him the "next Pacino" is still a stretch at this point. Let's see what else he can do before we anoint him as Al Pacino's successor...

Sophie - "but Mr. Rahim looks pretty Arab to me" - who's playing with stereotypes now? (Btw, Arab is a noun, the adjective is Arabic.)

Audiard's work proves he is neither racist nor interested in pandering to public prejudices. The point he is making is that Tahar Rahim's looks mean he is able to play not just characters who share his ethnicity, but also those of other backgrounds (like Spaniards or Portuguese, who make up another large chunk of France's "immigrant" population). As an actor this obviously increases your choice of roles, and thus bodes well for your career. It's not racism, it's common sense. For example, just compare the careers of Hispanic actors who have been able to escape the "Latino typecasting" and those who haven't...

I completly agree with you Alex

Tahar Rahim is of Kabyle descent! He's not Arabic but Berber. His parents come from Tizi Ouzou, Kabylie in what is today's Algeria. So like many fellow French of Kabyle descent (the most famous being Zidane or Isabelle Adjani, both of whom have blue/green eyes btw, but raven hair, and fair olive skin = stereotypical Kabyle look), he's not looking "Arab" simply because he's not. Muslim yep, with parents coming from Algeria, yep, Arab not. Simple as that.

Well documented but didn't cross the Atlantic yet it seems. Well if Mr. Rahim keeps producing such performances on screen, this type of info will get more known i guess...

@Delphine

Tahar Brahim's roots are from Oran, Algeria (and not kabylie as you state). Whether he's is an Arab or a Berber is of no consequence unless you are a racist yourself.

PS. Arabs, Kabyles, Chaouias, Chlouhs, etc. in North Africa come in different forms, shades, and colors. None of them are monolithic as you seem to imply.

123 Viva L'Algerie!

Who cares? He's cute and a terrific actor in the film.

I totaly agree what Delphine said. Berbers ethnic people like kabylians, riffans etc, and by the way afghans, syrians, iranians, were classified by british civil service in the early 20 th century as ethnic superior people than spanish, portuguese, italian, french, greek and the almost all other mediterranean sea peoples. Of course the northmen who invade those peoples' lands in the history have made some change physicaly, as the soldiers contributions at the later wars, have done too. French, as most of the mediterranean peoples are usually called or thought as european arabs, as we could see it represented in the anglo-saxons movies. Anyway.., that's the same stuff i guess as those specially peoples do with the others, southly more. And finaly, as we can see it everyday and presently, many kabylians for example look more european or more white than many frenchmens, portugueses, spaniards, italians or whatever.

He doesn't look Arab, because he isn't one. He's a Kabyle Berber. His parents are originally from Tizi Ouzou.

http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tahar_Rahim


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