With his second feature film LA NUIT DES ROIS, director Philippe Lacôte brilliantly shares his vision of Côte d’Ivoire through a tradition that is reborn in the heart of an overcrowded prison.
THE NIGHT OF KINGS, the last film of Philippe Lacote, is a work of great power, for several reasons. The first reason is the more than exotic place chosen by the director for his story. It takes the viewer on board in the MACA (House of Arrest and Correction of Abidjan), nicknamed the Jungle. Overcrowded, with its own codes and laws, it is the only prison in the world run by a prisoner who has full rights over his fellow men.
The Dangôro in the film is the fascinating and wise Blackbeard (Steve Tientcheu, crossed in THEes Miserable), admired by most men. But he’s sick and has no choice but to kill himself on the night of the red moon, because that’s the rule. He also knows that the candidates for his succession are active in the shadows, like Lass (Abdoul Karim Konate) or Half-crazy (Digbeu Jean Cyrille), and risk killing each other under the helpless gaze of goalkeeper Nivaquine (Issaka Sawadogo). Because chaos will follow after his death and almost revel in it.
The other reason for the success of THE NIGHT OF KINGS, this is the ingenious idea of the director and his co-writer Delphine Jaquet for having intertwined this extremely violent reality with a tale and for having harmoniously enveloped this human jungle in the art of poetry, theater and dance. By choosing a young person from the Gang of microbes (Bakary Koné) who has just entered MACA, Blackbeard reinvests the ritual of the “Roman”, which consists in forcing a prisoner to tell stories during the whole night. Death awaits him if he does not succeed.
Philippe Lacote thus manages to summon in his film as much the play of Shakespeare than The Thousand and One Nights of Scheherazade. THE NIGHT OF KINGS thus gives to see a valiant young man who fights for his life, thanks to the wise advice of the benevolent Toc Toc (Denis Lavant), who with his rooster perched on his shoulders brings an additional touch of mystery.
A powerful, poetic and graceful film.
The film indeed shows very well the evolution and the awareness of the young Roman during this night. Fed, watered, clothed and pampered for the occasion, he first approaches this role as a naive “prince without a kingdom”. Overwhelmed by events, power issues and settling of scores, he does not immediately understand his real role. Then he remembers the power his griot grandmother had in captivating her audience with her story. He is inspired by it and offers like a drug to the inmates, which they can no longer do without: the suspense of knowing the rest of the story and not the end.
His subject all found is the famous Zama King, the leader of his gang, of which he tells (without knowing what is the invented part and what is the real part) the beginnings and the terror established in the city for two years. . The director thus allows the viewer to know the reality of the violence encountered in Côte d’Ivoire. He even reinforces the documentary aspect of his film with archival footage of former President Laurent Gbagbo and rebel forces, which complete Roman’s story.
And the viewer watches with interest the hypnotic telescoping between the traditions of old stories handed down or invented from the world of yesterday and the brutal world of today. Thanks to speech, the outside world thus penetrates the energized walls of the MACA, just like the fantasized lives of Zama or a Queen (Laetitia Ky) with magical powers penetrates the minds of prisoners. Because these, and this is the last argument that gives to THE NIGHT OF KINGS a character of great originality, are more than involved in the story. As they mime, sing and dance to Roman’s lyrics, literally embodying the characters and actions. Most of the actors and extras are real dancers or former prisoners.
Powerful film with poetic and graceful contours, THE NIGHT OF KINGS brilliantly recalls the importance of tradition, speech and art through which every human being can escape by thinking of a life that is no longer one.
• Original title : The night of kings
• Production : Philippe Lacote
• Scenario: Philippe Lacôte, Delphine Jaquet
• Main actors : Bakary Koné, Steve Tientcheu, Denis Lavant
• Release date : September 8, 2021
• Duration : 1h33 min