‘Night of the Kings’ Review: Telling Tales to a Captive Audience


As a newcomer to a violent prison, the young man stands in the center of “Night of Kings” in front of a harsh crowd. He has a ceremonial duty to tell stories all night while the convict’s battered capo, Blackbeard, fights off succession plans. Philippe Lacôte’s troubled film – a rare US release from the Ivory Coast – sums up its struggles for survival to suggest that an entire country is struggling to make it.

Lacôte crosses the open energy of the griot traditions with the growing tensions near the prison. Given the honorary title “Roman”, the storyteller (Koné Bakary with a fresh face) stands up in a crowded main room to tell the genesis of Zama King, a gangster who roamed Abidjan, the largest city in Ivory Coast, during the post-office period Election chaos in the 2010s. Lacôte splices in clips of former President Laurent Gbagbo, who opposed his loss of the election.

A chorus of inmates pant and beautify the burgeoning story with pantomimes and songs while Blackbeard (Steve Tientcheu, the mayor of “Les Misérables”) ponders his downfall. Finally, Zama’s backstory jumps over the tracks and shows a CGI-enhanced fight between a queen (artist Laetitia Ky) and her brother. Denis Lavant even shows up as a character named Silence with a bird on his shoulder.

“It doesn’t even make sense!” A prisoner protests, and the film becomes more and more straightforward and sketchy, with Zama King strangely left blank. But after sitting through two and a half hours of “Wonder Woman 1984”, I dreamed that Lacôte could magically be left to the superhero’s time to concretise his impressive myths.

Night of kings
Not rated. In French Dyula and Nouchi with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 33 minutes. Take a look at the virtual cinema of the Angelika Film Center.