Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
Original Title: La Nuit Des Rois
France/Ivory Coast/Canada/Senegal, 2020. Banshee Films, Peripheria Productions, Wassakara Productions, Yennenga Productions. Screenplay by Philippe Lacôte. Cinematography by Tobie Marier-Robitaille. Produced by Delphine Jaquet, Ernest Konan, Yanick Létourneau. Music by Olivier Alary. Production Design by Samuel Teisseire. Costume Design by Hanna Sjödin. Film Editing by Aube Foglia.
A member of a notorious Abidjan gang gets sent to MACA, the Ivory Coast’s infamous prison where he is introduced to the rules of conduct upheld by the prisoners. The unwritten law of MACA states that the appointed King of the prison must commit suicide when he has grown too ill or weak to rule, and this young man, who is serving his first-ever stint in prison, has arrived at the moment that the current ruler, Blackbeard, has reached the twilight of his powers. The boy is appointed “Roman”, the position of storyteller, and is told that he must tell a tale that will elongate Blackbeard’s tenure while creating a dicey situation for our own young hero: he is secretly informed by another inmate (a supporting turn by Denis Lavant) that the storyteller is usually killed when his tale is complete. Deciding to appeal to his audience, Roman narrates the life and death of Zama King, the leader of his gang who has become something of a folk hero for his participation in the unseating of president Gbagbo and the succession crisis which followed it. Needing to keep the narrative going over a long period and to keep his audience enthralled, Roman embellishes Zama King’s tale with an origin story out of a superhero fable, King’s birth taking place in a land of queens and sorcerers, eventually leading to magical confrontations that include levitating warriors and shape-shifting animals before bringing him to the big city where his better known exploits take place. A prison film that avoids many of the cliches of the genre (no inter-departmental politics or exploitative rape scenes), Philippe Lacote’s beautifully photographed drama also tells the story of a colonized land that was once a place of beauty and whose population now lives in ruin as a result of its political history.
Toronto International Film Festival: 2020