“Roman” Our Storyteller only has one chance to survive the Red Moon, in Night of the Kings.
A young man is sent to “La Maca,” a prison in the middle of the Ivorian forest ruled by its inmates. As tradition goes with the rising of the red moon, he is designated by the Boss to be the new “Roman” and must tell a story to the other prisoners. Learning what fate awaits him, he begins to narrate the mystical life of the legendary outlaw named “Zama King” and has no choice but to make his story last until dawn. Written and Directed by Philippe Lacôte Produced by Delphine Jaquet, Yanick Létourneau, Ernest Konan, Yoro Mbaye Starring Koné Bakary, Steve Tientcheu, Rasmané Ouédraogo, Issaka Sawadogo
In a world unknown to many on the outside world “La Maca” prison of the Ivory Coast is a world within itself. Night of the Kings displays the harsh realities of prison life in the Ivorian Forest and with the inmates ruling over themselves, it explores the inner culture of a world that has been separated from society. Our protagonist now named “Roman” or Storyteller is thrown into this forgotten prison where only on his first night must he fight for his own survival.
Night of the Kings writer and director Philippe Lacôte has created a narrative for the unknown of life behind the bars, but La Maca is already different from the American standards of the prison system. The inhabitants roam free, created a culture, set of rules, and chosen leader. Blackbeard is the leader of this prison and he is now realizing his own end is near, by their laws if the leader reached a point of age or sickness they must take their own life and name a successor.
To buy himself some time he enacts the night of the Roman to hopefully solidify his legacy for a moment longer and hold off his fate. This is when our protagonist enters the tale. The young man was a part of a gang called the Microbes in the lawless sector of the city. He was later caught after a turn of events that he had little control of, now thrown into the prison he is taken aback by the sudden request to tell stories.
Confused and scared he is now the Roman, for reasons he still does not understand. Roman weaves a tale that borderlines truth, mysticism, space, and time. He begins a story about his own friend named Zama King, who at some point became a legend of the Microbes gang. Pulling on the cultural themes of his home Roman makes his attempts to engage with the listeners, to make sure they are one with his story. And this is where the true strength of the movie comes in.
The power of storytelling is abundant in this place. Individuals who never heard a word of his story begin moments of interpreting dance and singing to project key moments of the story. You must imagine that these are the nights that the prisoners truly look forward to. To hear news of the outside world and feel a little piece of home. Roman later learns that he must continue his story until the morning if he wishes to survive his first night.
And so begins the transition of his story to grow the legend of Zama King within the walls of La Maca, as well as buy him more time. Touching on modern events, past colonial times, and some mythical elements to grow the interests of his audience. All the while beneath the surface a power struggle within The Mac plays out throughout the night. This dynamic of Blackbeard and those who seek to sit on his throne only amplifies the tension we’re feeling all throughout this movie.
Overall Night of the Kings is an amazing movie. Whether you know of the current events that set the stage or just an interested party, it’s a masterfully made piece. Storytelling binding us together like never before combining the regional culture to enhance the elements of a life separated from society. It is a must-watch.
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