Tahar Rahim as Malik El Djebena

Jacques Audiard’s new film, A Prophet (which won the Grand Prix at Cannes and best film at the London Film Festival), is a prison thriller, yes, but an odd one. In the best scene our hero, Malik, is handcuffed in a car, being taken by a rival gang through the countryside near Marseille to the beach for negotiations (he’s on day release). The rival gang’s leader, Lattrache, isn’t sure of him: why is an Arab working for the Corsicans? Unsatisfactory answers bring Lattrache’s gun closer to Malik’s neck. Lattrache asks about a friend of his who died in prison (at our hero’s hands) – does Malik know anything about it? Who did it? Just as Malik is on the point of incriminating himself, he shouts ‘Animal!’ and a deer crashes into the windscreen. The camera follows the spinning body in slow motion as it arcs to the ground. Lattrache can’t believe it: ‘Are you a prophet or what?’

In Anne Carson’s poem ‘Deer (not a play)’, published in the LRB in 2007, the deer really is a sort of prophet. We are in the English countryside, and Jimi Hendrix is chatting to his limo driver on the way to Heathrow. This deer ‘can see/310/degrees around every lick’.

‘What is it about deer?’ the limo driver says.

‘…’ Jimi says, quite rightly.

The deer come from nowhere to change everything. They are meant to be mysteries. Or lunch (these are French gangs, after all): after Lattrache and his men uncuff our hero, they turn their guns on the deer and put its corpse in the boot instead of Malik’s. At the coast, with the rival gangs reconciled and ready to do some business about a casino, Lattrache’s mother washes Malik’s bloody shirt (it will not come clean) and Lattrache washes the side of venison in the sea and hangs it to dry on a hook.