A Tale To Be Told

Night of the Kings 
Stars: Bakary Kone, Isaka Sawadogo,  Steve Tientcheu, Rasmane Ouedraogo, Abdoul Karim Konate, Laetitia Ky and Denis Lavant
Director/Scriptwriter: Philippe Lacote
Composer: Olivier Alary
Cinematography: Tobie Marier-Robitaille
Banshee Films/Wassakara Productions/Neon
Rating: R for violent material and physical violence
Running Length: 93 Minutes
Subtitles: French and Dyula Languages 

The long-ago tale of “1001 Nights” as told by the character Scheherazade, is brought back in a different version by director/scriptwriter Philippe Lacote.  “1001 Nights” is a compilation of many stories that supposedly were spoken by a queen who did not want to be killed by her husband, a king who did not trust women. Each story ended in a cliffhanger, and was continued the next night and so on.  “Night of the Kings” is similar to that old story, but it is within Abidjan prison and not a palace.  Cinematography is well done by Tobie Marier-Robitaille, who takes the audience through the prison at night when it comes alive. Olivier Alary's music goes along with the photography for an  appropriate setting. 

Placed inside a prison in the Ivory Coast of Africa, a young man must tell stories through the night until the sun rises. Bakary Kone plays the young man who is promptly named Roman as soon as he enters the prison.  The story begins with this young man coming to the prison in the back of a pick-up, and shackled.  He looks at the prison with such despair you know he won’t last long there. The prisoners see him as already dead. The Warden of the prison and the guards know the prison is about to be shut down and don’t care what happens to the prisoners.  They can watch them through secret eye holes in the walls. Unaware, of this, life goes in in the prison.  The man who leads the prisoners is called Blackbeard (Steve Tientcheu) who is slowly dying of cancer. There is a Red Moon coming that is symbolic to the people of that area.  Blackbeard decides to have a storyteller present during this time and immediately tells Roman he is to be the one. No chance to prepare, Roman is literally sent to the wolves, as he enters the meeting room, put on a stand, and told to start speaking. As the film progresses, we see that Roman comes into his own as a speaker and tells the story of a queen (Laetitia Ky) who is at war, another about a blind father, and the stories continue.  In the meantime, the prisoners become interested in these tales and start to re-enact them, an example, a scorpion is done by a prisoner who is a contortionist. All this done at night, dim lighting in the prison, and the Red Moon keeps rising.  

I was caught up in the story at the beginning when the young man arrives at the prison and the prisoners get a good look at him. He may look frightened, but Blackbeard sees something in him that others don’t. That is courage and creativity. There is an assortment of men in this prison from a man with a chicken as a pet (Denis Lavant) to a transgender prisoner (Gbazi Yves Landry) to a prisoner known as Half-Mad (Jean Cyrille Digbeu.) This is a prison like no other and with prisoners from that area, the Red Moon has symbolism. The audience will feel claustrophobic watching this film in a prison, as the camera work brings you into the heart of the stories and the prisoners who are caught up in it. Blackbeard is the prisoner's leader, and he, too, looks at the dancers who are creating theater right there. You keep watching the storyteller, then the Red Moon. In the United States, in autumn is the large full orange moon called the Harvest Moon. Does that mean the same here?  What will happen at dawn, or will anything happen? Is there something real here or is this just another night’s entertainment?  “Night of the Kings” is an interesting variation of an old story, and one that captures the imagination. The build-up is carefully orchestrated and tension tightened as we watch Roman begin to entrance his audience. There is physical power and then there is vocal power. Which one predominates? 


Copyright 2021 Marie Asner