La nuit des rois [Night of the Kings] (2020)

La nuit des rois
Director: Philippe Lacôte
Writer: Philippe Lacôte
Cast: Bakary Koné, Steve Tientcheu, Rasmané Ouédraogo, Issaka Sawadogo, Abdoul Karim Konaté, Denis Lavant, Jean Cyrille Digbeu, Laetitia Ky, Macel Anzian
Part of: Viennale
Seen on: 30.10.2020

La Maca is the most infamous prison in Ivory Coast, ruled by inmate Blackbeard (Steve Tientcheu). But Blackbeard’s health is not what it used to be, making him a target for others who would like to take his place. The night of the Red Moon is approaching, a pivotal night of storytelling. When Blackbeard spots a new prisoner, he immediately makes him the new “Roman” (Bakary Koné), the new storyteller. Roman doesn’t have much of a choice but be Roman, although he would rather keep his head down. But if he doesn’t settle quickly into his new role, a lot is at stake for him, Blackbeard and the prison at large.

La nuit des rois is a movie of two parts that are both missing an important ingredient and didn’t really come together for me.

The film poster showing Roman (Bakary Koné) in front of an empty prison cell.

I really liked the idea of basically playing Sheherazade in prison, and it could have been quite something if the two halves of the film – the stories Roman tells and the goings-on in the prison itself – had felt more like a whole. But neither do they come together, nor do they work on their own. The told stories are stunningly set in scene, but boring, while the prison plot offered a more interesting but one that was lacking a red line for me – it was much too frayed and a little all over the place.

Overall that meant that the film didn’t manage to keep my attention all the way through and I found myself drifting over and over again. And I tried really hard not to – there was enough in the film that made me want to pay more attention, that made me want to like it. I just didn’t.

Roman (Bakary Koné) telling his story to a crowd of prisoners.

That being said, there were some really cool things in the film. Apart from the fantastic visuals of the fantasy elements that I mentioned already, I really loved how the other prisoners took up Roman’s storytelling, building from it, turning it into dance and song, almost like providing special effects.

Maybe the film just hit me on the wrong day or at the wrong time. I found it intriguing enough that I would give it another try. But for now, I can only see the missed chances.

The Queen (Laetitia Ky) making her way through the village.

Summarizing: didn’t work for me.

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