The MACA prison is a world with its own codes and laws. The first law is that the Dangôro, the supreme master, rules the prisoners. When the Dangôro falls ill and can no longer govern, he must take his own life.

A young man is sent to the MACA prison in the middle of the Ivorian forest. This is the only prison in the world ruled by its prisoners. With the red moon rising, he is designated by the sick Dangôro (Steve Tientcheu – ‘Les Misérables‘) to be the new “Roman”, some sort of storyteller, and must keep the other prisoners entertained all night long. Learning what fate awaits him according to the rules of the MACA prison, Roman (newcomer Bakary Koné) has no choice but to make his story last until dawn, in order to save his own life.

Night of the Kings‘ (aka ‘La Nuit des Rois‘) throws us into a chaotic prison-situation, kicking off the plot as if they’re already running out of time. That sense of urgency and lack of set-up benefits the movie at the start, but then quickly falls flat on its face. You can’t fault director Philippe Lacôte (‘Run‘) for trying something completely out of this world. What seems more like a watered down gangster/prison-film, is actually more of a mystifying West African story that’s entirely built around the power of storytelling itself.

It’s an often fascinating and bizarre movie-experience. While Roman tells a story based on well known bad boy Zama King, some of his fellow prisoners reenact his words in ways of interpretive dance and singing. Not only does Roman himself get distracted by the other inmates’ sudden urge to express themselves, but it also took me by surprise every time, making it difficult to stay focused on the story that’s being told. The film also starts to drag, making it seem as if there wasn’t a clear direction where all of this was headed in the first place, given ‘Night of the Kings‘ more the feeling of an improvised theatre play than an actual cinematic concept.

Even though the movie as a whole leaves no impact at all, the acting and cinematography is decent, where the handheld camerawork gives everything a more intimate feeling of being there yourself. ‘Night of the Kings‘ has a hard time pulling focus, with a subpar screenplay that doesn’t resemble the competent film making of Lacôte. The adequate cast benefits from the atmosphere that’s summoned by a haunting red moon, but if even Denis Lavant‘s pet chicken can’t keep you intrigued, something’s clearly lacking. An ambitious effort, that in the end fails to impress.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Review – ‘La Nuit des Rois’

Reviewed online (screener provided by publicist), October 12, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 93 min.

PRODUCTION: A Memento Films International release of a Peripheria Productions, Wassakara Productions, Yennenga Productions, Banshee Films production. Producers: Delphine Jaquet, Ernest Konan, Yanick Létourneau.

CREW: Director/screenplay: Philippe Lacôte. Editing: Aube Foglia. Cinematography: Tobie Marier-Robitaille. Score: Olivier Alary.

WITH: Bakary Koné, Steve Tientcheu, Issaka Sawadogo, Denis Lavant, Rasmané Ouédraogo, Abdoul Karim Konaté, Laetitia Ky.

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