The Prayer ★★★

Kahn, as he did in Wild Life, uses the French countryside as a self-imposed prison in this effective and impassioned but somewhat distant drama. Set in a religious commune designed to help men kick addiction by turning to God, the film tracks the journey of a baby-faced newcomer (Anthony Bajon, well-cast) on his precarious path toward salvation. This material feels immediately familiar, but it’s to Kahn’s credit that it scarcely ever comes off as maudlin or manipulative. His screenwriting is as pragmatic and pared down as these men’s attitude toward religion. Everything serves a direct, unfussy purpose. It’s the sort of film that has good taste, “honesty,” and restraint as virtues, which I find conceptually respectable but altogether unexciting. An early scene in which several men come to aid the protagonist during a case of night sweats unfolds almost entirely without dialogue or alarm from the actors. It both establishes the unfazed routine to come and is probably the film’s peak, for better or worse. Throughout, the landscape is used to great metaphorical effect, yet the geographic shift that the film takes also abstracts the issue of addiction away from causes, lending the film an evasiveness that may well be embodied by Bajon, but might also be somewhat unintended.