‘Night time of the Kings’ evaluation: A film with a great story to inform

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It took Scheherazade 1,001 nights to weave her internet and in the end save her pores and skin. No comparable degree of stamina is demanded of the plucky younger fantasist in “Night time of the Kings,” although that doesn’t make his process any extra enviable. Not lengthy after being thrown into Ivory Coast’s infamous La Maca penitentiary, he’s given the identify “Roman,” or storyteller, and made to regale his fellow prisoners with tales of marvel over one fateful night. It’s a ritual supposed to keep up order but destined to finish in bloodshed, although who will reside and who will die stays, very like the ending of Roman’s personal improvised yarn, an intriguingly open query.

The Ivorian director Philippe Lacôte, who wrote the script with Delphine Jaquet, ushers us into this huge concrete fortress alongside Roman (Koné Bakary), a convicted pickpocket and La Maca’s latest arrival. The naive younger outsider-protagonist is a well-recognized cinematic gadget, however this heady and ingenious film, just lately shortlisted for the very best worldwide characteristic Oscar, adheres to conference solely up to a degree.

To paraphrase one of many many characters trapped inside its partitions, La Maca isn’t like most prisons. Surrounded by lush greenery on the outskirts of Abidjan, the capital metropolis, it’s each a imaginative and prescient of the abyss and a self-enclosed society, dominated by a selected inmate often called the Dangoro, and sustained by ceremonial legal guidelines rooted in Ivorian historical past and folklore. However these legal guidelines look like on the verge of crumbling on this film, a portrait of mass confinement that can be an allegory of the previous clashing with the brand new.

The longtime Dangoro, Blackbeard (an imposing Steve Tientcheu, “Les Misérables”), is grievously unwell and certain by custom to take his personal life. Numerous gangs are scheming to succeed him, by violence if crucial. Lacôte outlines these energy struggles with fast, slashing brushstrokes: We study to navigate this secluded underworld not simply by the script’s terse dollops of exposition but in addition by the athletic actions of Tobie Marier-Robitaille’s digicam, snaking by grotty rooms and hallways filled with prisoners. Blackbeard could also be shedding command of this unruly mass of humanity, however Roman’s arrival does enable him to maintain the inevitable at bay: He invokes the “Night time of Roman,” when all of the prisoners will collect in a courtyard below a blood-red moon and listen to our hero communicate. (Lacôte has famous that this conceit is an imaginative riff on a real-life La Maca phenomenon.)

Koné Bakary in "Night of the Kings."

Koné Bakary in “Night time of the Kings.”


“Night time of the Kings” is thus explicitly a narrative in regards to the energy of storytelling — a not-unfamiliar conceit which may make your coronary heart sink somewhat at first, given what number of filmmakers have used self-reflexivity as an excuse for self-congratulation. However any such pretensions are stored in verify right here, as is the ponderousness and sentimentality that always afflict such workouts in mythmaking.

The story that Roman comes up with doesn’t appear too exceptional, a minimum of initially: Hesitantly at first, however with more and more daring language, he tells of the tumultuous life and brutal dying of a younger gang chief named Zama King.

The telling, although, is exceptional. Lacôte brings us into Zama King’s story — and out of La Maca’s claustrophobic environs — by transient illustrative sequences, the loveliest of which present an historical warrior-queen (Laetitia Ky) main a procession alongside the coast and, ultimately, a military into battle. (For visible splendor, the wobbly however sparingly used computer-generated imagery is available in second to the standard costumes designed by Hanna Sjödin.) However as transporting as these elaborations are, we’re held much more powerfully by the sheer pressure of Roman’s narration, by the glow of the torchlight on the faces of his captive viewers and by their vigorous responses to every new twist and switch. Generally they push again vocally towards his narrative; extra usually they accompany it, by track, dance and pantomime, their our bodies giving flesh and kind to the storyteller’s phrases.

It’s a exceptional spectacle, and in addition a bracing argument that the very best spectacles are handmade. Though Roman has a household connection to the West African griot custom, his personal storytelling abilities are tough and unpolished, and all of the extra affectingly human for it. He’s improvising like mad, attempting to final the evening and escape the violence that’s by no means far distant: It rears its head in Roman’s tales of armed fight and mob homicide, and it additionally lurks within the shadows of La Maca, the place all method of harrowing jail intrigue churns beneath the multilayered principal narrative. (Some levity is supplied by the nice Denis Lavant because the jail’s sole white inmate, Silence, who skulks about doling out cryptic recommendation and paying no heed to the rooster perched on his shoulder.)

Laetitia Ky in "Night of the Kings."

Laetitia Ky in “Night time of the Kings.”


Lacôte’s 2014 debut characteristic, “Run,” appeared to herald a cinematic rejuvenation for Ivory Coast, whose once-thriving movie business foundered amid the political upheavals of the early 2000s. (At one level we see documentary footage of the disaster that engulfed the nation within the wake of its contested 2010 election.) Like “Run,” although with extra focus and management, “Night time of the Kings” tells the story of a younger man caught up within the sweep of historical past, and does so with a powerfully disarming combination of moods. Politics and mythology blur indistinguishably, and folkloric enchantment provides method to startling violence (and vice versa). Lacôte turns the jail right into a teeming, quarreling microcosm of the nation simply past its barred partitions, and turns his characters into stripped-down representatives of a traumatized, factionalized society struggling to reemerge.

All this could look like each an excessive amount of and too little, which speaks to Lacôte’s curious mixture of economic system and ambition. To say that not every thing coheres on this swift, propulsive 93-minute movie is to recommend that the filmmaker has executed justice to the unruliness of his topic: In capturing and preserving a long-standing oral custom, he has arrived at each a persuasive imaginative and prescient of the previous and a hopeful glimpse of the long run. Like all good storytellers, he leaves you wanting extra.

‘Night time of the Kings’

In French and Dyula with English subtitles

Rated: R, for some violent materials, language and nudity

Working time: 1 hour, 33 minutes

Enjoying: Begins Feb. 26 at digital cinemas together with Laemmle Digital Cinema; out there March 5, PVOD

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