I had missed this film at TIFF this year and heard plenty of buzz about a potential Oscar nom in the International Film category, so made sure I did not miss it again.
It is the first Ivory Coast, Canada, France, and Senegal co-production. In these weird times it has found a niche making its way around different festivals. Word of mouth has earned it people making the effort to see it. At Cinemania there is still a chance to see it as it won the award for Best Quebec or Co-production film.
This one, though set in a prison, is set in the tradition of storytelling in the Ivory Coast. A prison, known as La Maca, in which it seems like the prisoners run the show. One man is the boss, who is known as Blackbeard (Steve Tientcheu – Les Miserables – 2019, Jungle Jihad). Though his time at the top seems to be nearing its end. He is not well physically, requiring oxygen often. Seeing his own end the boss is under pressure to name a successor.
To earn himself some time and with the red moon rising, the boss names the newest inmate as the new “Roman”. This means the storyteller. The young man (Bakary Kone – first film) does not really know what this means. He starts a story while those in the audience act out and move to help tell the tale.
During a break another inmate tells the Roman that his story must never end. Confused, he asks why. The man tells him that the end of the story means the Roman is to die…to be killed. Frightened, the Roman begins to extend his tale about a criminal living in the slums of Abidjan and how he was driven to death.
While the film is set in a filthy and wild prison, it is rather beautiful. This is because of the beautiful way the actors make the story which Roman is telling come to life. Through dance and movement. Very theatrical in nature. Focusing plenty on the look of the film. Tone and story is dark, and even the look of it is, and yet you as the viewer are not overwhelmed or subsumed by it. All of this is captured and translated by Quebec cinematographer Tobie Marier Robitaille.
Most certainly this is not your typical prison film. It is deeper than something which just endeavours to tell a tale of survival in tough conditions. Rather it is attempting to shed light on the entire or inner workings of Ivorian society. How things actually work in the country.
La Nuit des Rois is Ivorian director Philippe Lacote’s (Run) second film. He once again demonstrates himself to be a storyteller of a singular vision. But without his young lead at the center of it all La Nuit des Rois would not work as well. Despite the fact that he has no experience as an actor, he conducts himself like a pro. Showing what Roman is thinking and feeling even when he is not speaking. When he is telling the story you cannot take your eyes off him and also plunge deep into the depths of his voice.