If a young man cannot command an inmate-run prison with his storytelling, his first night behind bars promises to be his last in this lush, striking and unexpected tale that blends magical realism with current affairs.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2021
A prison film like no other, Philippe Lacôte’s visionary Night of the Kings draws from the Ivory Coast’s tumultuous history and free-wheeling fantasy to craft a gripping tale of survival.
When a young inmate arrives at a notorious Abidjan prison, he is chosen by the resident Dangôro (inmate king) Blackbeard to be the storyteller for the night of the blood moon. Despite having no gift for oratory, the young Roman – with the guidance of aged prisoner Silence (long-time fest favourite Denis Lavant) – must hold his literally captive audience at bay with words if he is to survive the night. Meanwhile, with Blackbeard himself at death’s door, a power struggle unfolds around them to determine who will rule the roost.
From our entry into the prison, unexpected moments of song and dance collide with casual cruelty, constantly unsettling our expectations. Lacôte’s personal experience – his mother was a political prisoner at the very same facility – brings an unsettling realism to this unlikely scenario. A beautifully shot ode to storytelling and stark acknowledgement of how environment shapes us all, Night of the Kings is both potent and unforgettable. — Doug Dillaman
“With his sophomore feature, writer-director Philippe Lacôte refuses all genre expectations, flowing between a prison drama and visually stunning sequences that depict Roman’s elaborate tale... Night of the Kings is a mesmerising meditation on the art of storytelling and its role in survival.” — Kiva Reardon, Toronto International Film Festival