Film review: A Prophet

First published in the March 2010 issue of the Hearing Times

‘A Prophet’ has given French director Jaques Audiard the best reviews of his career, and won this year’s BAFTA for best foreign language film.

Recently I set up a deaf cinema group dedicated to watching subtitled films, so forty of us packed into a central London cinema to see what all the fuss was about.

The last film I saw by Audiard was ‘Read My Lips,’ a thriller with a deaf secretary as it’s heroine. While his depiction of deafness didn’t entirely ring true, it used the deaf theme in a compelling and original way. Interestingly, the best scene in ‘A Prophet’ also uses deafness to dramatic effect.

‘A Prophet’ follows a young man, Malik, who is sentenced to six years in prison, arriving unable to read or write. Soon he falls under the control of a mafia group, and is forced to carry out dangerous jobs on their behalf, ranging from drug trafficking to murder.

Gradually Malik learns how to assert not only his independence, but a growing power, as he finds a way to control and manipulate the elements around him without succumbing to them, becoming the ‘prophet’ the title suggests.

Malik is quiet, and gives very little away, yet Tahar Rahim plays him with a remarkable magnetism, in a role that has rightly made him a star.

In one breathtaking scene, Malik goes temporarily deaf during a shoot-out. Audiard’s use of super slow-motion and complete silence takes the breath away; conveying a sense of chaos yet serenity as bullets fly all around him as he crouches in a car.

Though one or two members of the film group found it over long, (and went home for dinner!) everyone else loved the film, including me. I watched the film in a constant state of anxiety, and I mean that in a positive way!

My one criticism is that at times Malik’s journey seemed a little too easy. Everything he wants falls seems to fall neatly into his path, and I’d have liked to have seen him go through a little more hardship on the way.

Despite that minor gripe, I believe this story of a prisoner’s rise from a nobody to a somebody will be be regarded as a cinematic classic in years to come.

My first job interview

First published in the March 2010 issue of the Hearing Times

I’m hard of hearing, not hard of thinking, yet deafness has come up as a negative issue in about half of my job interviews, in a way that made me see just how little deaf awareness exists in the real world.

It started when I was 15. After waking up at the crack of dawn for two years to do a low-paid paper round, I got the chance to double my weekly income with a two week trial at the local fish and chip shop. The owner was friendly, and I really liked eating chips (!) so the job seemed perfect.

But the sound of frying fish and a tinny radio blaring out 90s tunes made the chippy very noisy, and the owner started double checking what the customers wanted every time I took an order. The funny thing was that I could lipread them really easily above the din, and every time she checked, she found I’d got it right.

It didn’t make any difference. Her paranoia got worse – or maybe she just needed an excuse to let me go. Either way, after the third night I worked there, she told me she couldn’t keep me on – for health and safety reasons..! As if I’d somehow fry my own hand in batter because I couldn’t hear very well.

It was the first time I’d been confronted with the outside world’s view of my deafness, and I sadly went back to the paper round, which, despite only paying £1.25 a day, at least left my clothes smelling of fresh air rather than battered fish.

Years later, shortly after finishing university I (mistakenly) thought that it’d be fun to be an estate agent, so I got an interview with a company in upmarket Henley-Upon-Thames.

In the first interview, I tried to turn my deafness and knowledge of sign language into a positive, and mentioned how I’d be able to communicate easily with deaf house-hunters. I was surprised when the interviewer (who turned out to be the son of the company boss), replied dismissively “there’s not many deaf people around.”

Somehow I got through to a second interview, where I spoke to a regional manager who was incredibly interested in the practicalities of wearing hearing aids. “What do they run on then?” he asked. “Er, batteries” I replied. “And what happens when they run out?” he followed up. “I… replace them,” I said, trying not to laugh. It wasn’t a positive experience, but I put up with it, and in the end, got the job.

Fast forward t0 2007. I’d escaped being a salesman in the countryside in favour of working in television in central London. It was all short-term contracts, and way you got a job was very informal. You’d get a phone call on a Friday evening and you’d be working with them for the next ten weeks, before changing companies again.

One job interview startled me around this time. I got asked to go for an interview at a company I’d already worked at (for six months) to talk to the producer of a new series because she was “concerned about working with a deaf person.”

I went along, chatted to her, and she soon realised there was nothing to worry about. But two things struck me.

One was that even when you’ve proved yourself with one set of people, you’re compelled to prove yourself all over again as soon as something changes which puts you in contact with new people – such as a new member of staff joining, the company getting a new client, and so on.

The second was a worry for people with a higher level of deafness than me. The producer was worried that I couldn’t use a phone – I am fortunate that I can. But what if I couldn’t? It would have been a big fat “no” for me. Even if I was good at every other aspect of the job.

These experiences left me with the impression that looking for a job when you’re deaf means you have to work even harder than a hearing person would, to get the same opportunities. It’s not fair, but it’s the real world, unfortunately.

More positively, my experience also tells me that if you do well, you’ll get past those barriers, and the people who doubted you will realise that deaf people really can do it. So don’t give up.