Viennale ’09: Notes and Reviews



This is the third Viennale that I have attended, and it’s exciting to see its increasing popularity and appeal. Aside from the surge in ticket sales (apparently 25,000 were sold on the opening day, and I had to queue up for 3 hours to get mine), it is also apparent in the excellent mix of mainstream movies and world cinema that the Viennale brings every year. The festival gives out no awards, hence sparing it the rush of celebrity, media and studio-execs and focusing distinctly on the movies. I am also a big fan of the Gartenbaukino, as its one of the biggest screens in Vienna, making refreshing change from Artis or Haydn. Here are a few reviews:

Films that I watched:

Un Prophéte: Easily the most exciting movie that I have seen at the Viennale. The movie begins as realist prison-drama, but soon grows bigger than its setting into faiytale bildungsroman, stuff of myths and legends. However, the core of the movie is the thrill of watching it’s protagonist-a young French-Arab named Mallik-el-Tjebna-perilous rise to power, with all the odds stacked up against him. Malliks world looks dire as he enters the prison as a small time crook to serve a six year jail sentence, and is soon blackmailed by the Corsican mafia that controls the jail into murdering their rival-another French-Arab named Reyeb. Before he’s killed, Reyeb tells Mallik that the whole point of prison life is to learn something here (Reyeb is present throughout the movie, a sort of Gabriel to Mallik’s prophet) . And learn Mallik does, from reading and writing to negotiating the ,power relations and racial tensions of the prison yard.  He has a treacherous mentor in César, the leader of the Corsicans, and their relationship forms the emotional center of the film as we watch Mallik growing stronger and mature, while César grows more insecure and irrelevant.

The brilliance of the movie lies in its direction and how Audiard manages to imbibe poetry and mysticism in an