Philippe Lacôte, has presented at the 2020 Venice Film Festival, La Nuit des Rois (The Night of the Kings). The French-Ivorian director’s second feature film after ‘Run’, selected at the Cannes Film Festival.

In The Night of the Kings (La Nuit des Rois), a young man thrown into the infamous La Maca prison in Côte d’Ivoire is forced to invent a story that lasts until dawn or face the consequences, as a kind of Modern Scheherazade. A film that combines elements of fairy tales and narratives with a vividly drawn background of greater realism based on images and sounds as well as on the human voice to tell its multiple stories. On this occasion, the French-Ivorian filmmaker Philippe Lacôte once again features the actor, Abdoul Karim Konate, who already participated in his first film, Run, starring in an extraordinary supporting role, Venice Horizons.

The infamous La Maca prison is a massive concrete inferno on the outskirts of Abidjan, once built for 1,500 prisoners, but currently housing more than 5,000 people. The penal complex is located in the former Banco National Park and therefore surrounded by lush tropical vegetation, while inside it looks and feels like a colony of ants, with what at first glance may seem like chaotic hordes that quickly reveal themselves as highly organized around a single leader.

As explained at the beginning, the inmates are so organized that they basically run the place. Most of the power is concentrated in the hands of the dangoro, a detainee who is appointed head of the prisoners. Tradition dictates that he remain in power until he is too physically weak to reign, at which point he will commit suicide to make room for the next leader. This scenario is exactly what several hotheaded young men, led by Lass (Konate), hope will soon happen with today’s still imposing dangoro, Blackbeard (a solemn Steve Tientcheu, the warden of the Oscar nominee for Les Miserables). But despite his name, his beard has actually started to turn gray, and Blackbeard is clearly not in the best of health anymore.

Continuing his reign as if nothing were wrong, Blackbeard orders a newcomer (Kone Bakary, strong and solid) to be the new “Roman”, which is both a name and the French word for a novel, a book of stories. The reason for the nickname is that every night there is a red moon, lamps are lit and the prisoners stay awake to listen to the tales of their “roman”, the prison narrator, who has to continue until dawn or risk running the Same luck as Scheherazade if she doesn’t invent a narrative every night.

So the latest incarnation of Roman, a shy young man, is forced to make up an epic tale on his first night in jail and do it in French, the prison’s lingua franca. He begins to hesitate, until he remembers that his aunt was a griot, a West African storyteller, and that he went to school with the infamous and was known to the entire prison population.

It tells a story within a story and has various beginnings and endings and at one point it seems to magically extend back in time, from the life of his aunt to an ancient African kingdom, ruled by a majestic queen (Laetitia Ky) sporting a relatively relative example. curator of the hair sculptures for which the artist-activist is known). Roman, hesitant at first but then more fluently, tells his tale, secretly prompted by the only white detainee, a silent nutter nicknamed Silence (played by Denis Lavant of Holy Motors).

Not only do the other prisoners listen, comment and shout, but some of them also act and dance during certain passages, creating unexpected moments of visual poetry that are captured by Quebec-born cinematographer Tobie Marier Robitaill with camera movements. original and fluid. The images, often in blues and browns saturated with darkness and pierced by flickering ocher light from oil lamps, contrast with scenes from the stories Lacôte also mixes, and which often occur in broad daylight. These occasionally have a fantastic touch, but are thankfully kept minimally, as the visuals are good but not exceptional and tend to pull the viewer out of the movie rather than help support its stories.

While the fact that Roman may face harsh consequences if he stops telling his story before dawn is nominally used as a source of suspense, the dark designs of Blackbeard and a prisoner visiting a young transvestite (Gbazy Yves Landry) eventually they last longer. The main motor of the narrative is not actually the suspense, but the strength of the various tales themselves and how they keep branching out in different directions only to unexpectedly reconnect or reinvent and restructure themselves.

Lacôte generally touches on topics like the importance of storytelling, as well as the fact that even some of the best stories don’t stand up to close scrutiny. Fernando Meirelles’s kinetic tale about a crime in the favelas, in the City of God, is marked, ironically right after a scene that seems to quote another film: Matteo Garrone’s tale about the world of crime in Naples, Gomorrah. All three films dynamically tell stories about young people trying to survive in a world where crime seems to make more sense than many other options.

And another related topic: Local audiences and West African political buffs might also see a certain parallel to some true story, including one connecting the fate of Blackbeard, the leader whom a part of the population wants to have eliminated. when it is considered inappropriate, and that of former President Laurent Gbagbo. That being said, La Nuit des Rois is just as interesting without this nod to politics and recent Ivory Coast history.

Lacôte also relies heavily on a beautifully detailed soundscape, which often plays with what happens off-screen as much as what is actually visible.

La Nuit des Rois, in addition to being screened at the Venice Film Festival, will also be screened at the New York Film Festival and the Toronto Film Festival, a true “hattrick” for the director who arrives ready to conquer the other side of the pond.


(Source: Hollywood Reporter)