Skimming over the 'best of 2009' film lists during the New Year break, you may have noticed numerous references to A Prophet (pictured), Jacques Audiard's terse prison drama that pinched the inaugural Best Film award at the London Film Festival back in October.
The tawdry pace of distribution in Britain means that, unless you caught that festival screening, you're unlikely to have seen the film. But it's finally being released this month, and by way of celebration, the BFI has programme a fine season of classic and contemporary French cinema that proves just how adroitly our Gallic neighbours have mastered the thriller genre.
Though he has directed just five films — his first at the relatively mature age of 44 — Audiard has neatly adopted the mantle of such revered auteurs as Claude Chabrol and Francois Truffaut, creating claustrophobic and tightly plotted movies that owe much to the codes of pulp crime fiction, but fusing them with a social consciousness. The season includes all of his films, from 1994's Self Made Hero up to 2005's The Beat That My Heart Skipped which won considerable admiration outside of France.
There's also the chance to see the Fifties classics Les Diaboliques and Touchez pas au grisbi, American-set In the Electric Mist, starring Tommy Lee Jones and John Goodman, and the "bracingly fiendish" psychological thriller, Harry, He's Here To Help, among other films.