La prière (The Prayer)
At its heart, the newest offering by Cédric Kahn is a story of introspection, doubting one’s own choices, and an imperfect system that offers an escape from addiction. Thomas (Anthony Bajon) is a young drug addict who arrives bruised and broken at a type of religious halfway house in the photogenically mountainous French countryside. The establishment is overseen by Marco (Àlex Brendemühl), and he quickly lays down the ground rules. The therapy on offer is prayer (and the necessary belief to attain an answer therein) and arduous, often pointless-seeming physical labour. Thomas rather unsurprisingly reaches the end of his tether fairly early on and walks away, but intervention from nearby resident Sybille (Louise Grinberg) results in a reconsideration. He returns to the home and attempts to heal.
Anthony Bajon is outstanding as Thomas. As a recovering heroin addict suddenly in conflict with the structured existence of the home, he could easily spiral into hysteria. He is defiant and indignant as needed, but it’s a remarkably grounded and naturalistic performance. His personality is gradually parcelled out in small, telling moments, and his maturation feels completely organic. He’s first seen arriving at the home, where he’s forced to shave his head before being presented with a set of casual clothes, meaning the inhabitants of the home look rather like an H&M prison collection.
The only means of restitution and recovery is to be indoctrinated, but Cédric Kahn doesn’t present any overt criticism of this method, although the idea of replacing the ravages of drugs with the rapture of religion is coolly alluded to. Still, there is no denouncement of organised religion, and the cliché of redemption through blind submission is not on display. Even a brief flash of violence is seen as a comment on the lack of self-reflection Thomas displays, as opposed to sadism from the nun who dishes it out. The Prayer grapples with weighty themes, but it’s done lovingly and in a meditative (prayer-like) manner. The end result is genuinely affecting.
La prière (The Prayer) does not have a UK release date yet.
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Watch the trailer for La prière (The Prayer) here: