In Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire’s prison drama A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN Everything is a bit more authentic than in many other films in the genre. We reveal why this is so and what makes it an absolute must-see of the cinema year in our review.
The Plot Summary
Welcome to hell, Billy! The young Brit (Joe Cole) got caught dealing in Bangkok and has now ended up in the toughest prison in Thailand. He doesn’t speak Thai, has no money, desperately needs material and is a pale exotic figure among the heavily tattooed local prisoners for whom the new prisoners are fresh meat. But Billy is particularly good at one thing: boxing. In the extremely brutal prison hierarchy, this is his only chance of survival and recognition. But even when he is nominated for the famous prison Muay Thai competition, he has to fight for his life. Because the prisoners bet on his victory. If he comes back as a loser, he’s as good as dead…
Movie explanation of the ending
There is hardly a (sub)genre that is as identical from film to film as the boxing drama. Regardless of whether it’s a classic like “Rocky” or modern examples like “Southpaw” – the dramaturgy of the rise, fall and resurgence is very similar, which doesn’t mean that every film can’t be good in its own right. The prison film, on the other hand, allows itself a variation. From the emotional classic of drama cinema (“The Condemned”) to the dazzling, provocative character portrait (“Bronson”) to the exciting adventure film (“Papillon”), the four walls of a prison are by no means a restriction on the director’s creative creativity. The French director Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire also proves this (“Johnny Mad Dog”) – without having to resort to a particularly deep bag of tricks for his first feature film in five years. His drama “A Prayer Before Dawn”, which will be released in a limited edition in this country and will have the additional title “The Last Prayer” in home cinemas (release: March 8, 2019), is an elegant mixture of prison and boxing film, for which the author duo is from Jonathan Hirschbein (“Vendetta Rider”) and Nick Saltrese (“Brookside”) On the one hand, it follows the unspoken rules of boxing film production, but thanks to the overarching theme of prison, it brings so much variation to the familiar theme that it feels like you’ve never seen it all before.
Of course, among the fully tattooed prison brothers, the pale Brit Billy (Joe Cole) particularly stands out.
For “A Prayer Before Dawn,” Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire draws on two genres that at first glance only have a secondary connection with each other, but that have one crucial thing in common in their narrative style: both the boxing and the prison films are alive usually from a very subjective narrative style. No wonder: in both cases, the focus of the narrative is usually one individual, around whom everything in the respective story revolves. In “A Prayer Before Dawn” it is the ashen, lanky Brit Billy, who looks even paler and thinner than he already does among the fully tattooed, massive prison brothers (Billy is actually a boxer and you can only tell that in the ring the young man definitely has muscles). In order to tell the story entirely from Billy’s point of view, Sauvaire chooses brutal methods: for example, he does not use subtitles. If the prisoners around Billy speak Thai or some other language that the young man does not speak, then as a viewer you are just as perplexed as the main character (even if it is usually easy to deduce from the context what it is about). goes). Cameraman David Ungaro also sticks (“Mary Shelley”) formally on the protagonist, rarely focuses on a specific point in the room, but rather leaves the entire event in the room until Billy is pushed aside again by someone. Often you can hardly see anything when Billy has to stay in a room that is far too small with many other inmates.
But it’s not just the technical presentation that underlines the shaky, intimate camera work and the extremely measured use of music (composer: Nicolas Becker, “All the beautiful promises”) the impression of the documentary and unadulterated. Everything was done in advance to make what was shown look as authentic as possible. Most of the actors in “A Prayer Before Dawn” are not prison inmates at all, but real prisoners. And so it is hardly surprising that the threat they pose can also be felt by the viewer in front of the screen. In addition, the script jumps around extremely brutally with the prisoners: Jonathan Hirschbein and Nick Saltrese make no compromises and let the prisoners rape, brutally beat, stab and insult their fellow inmates – and the camera always keeps a close eye on it! In this case, the FSK rating for ages 16 and up is absolutely justified, even if the film always places the most brutal moments in a narrative context – even if it’s just that the violent acts of the convicts emphasize their constant unpredictability. Nevertheless, the images of serious sexual abuse, in which Billy, like the viewer, is forced to watch, will remain etched in our minds for a long time.
Billy feels free in the boxing ring…
Even though Billy is initially introduced as a passionate boxer, the sport takes a back seat for a long time after his imprisonment. Instead, it’s all about Billy’s fight for survival in prison; only gradually does “A Prayer Before Dawn” develop into a sports drama that largely obeys the unwritten rules of boxing films; Here, too, it’s ultimately about how a boxer can only regain the recognition he had before his time as a convict with the help of a single big fight – except that it’s actually about sheer survival, because Billy’s fellow prisoners are just waiting to kill him after a defeat. Ultimately, it’s not so exciting whether Billy will win the fight (correspondingly, the end of the boxing match is not the victory or defeat, but a much more intimate scene), but rather what the preparation for the event will do to him and his psyche hires. Newcomer Joe Cole (“Green Room”) imitates the fighter who is becoming more and more resolute on the outside, but who is increasingly falling apart day by day due to the circumstances in prison, with self-sacrificing conflict. His ambivalent actions here have nothing to do with implausible volatility, but rather are the result of an almost insurmountable emotional conflict. The prisoners around him merge into a large, threatening mass from which no one particularly stands out, but ultimately this only underlines Billy’s feelings, who simply cannot make a difference between the men who all equally wish him dead.
Conclusion: With his bitter prison drama “A Prayer Before Dawn”, Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire manages to provide an extremely authentic insight into the hard life behind Thai bars and uses various smart tricks to make the story of the main character Billy look as believable as possible .
“A Prayer Before Dawn” can be seen in selected USA cinemas from November 8th.