Set in a prison located deep in the jungle and ruled by an inmate, Blackbeard (Steve Tientchewu), Night of the Kings opens with the arrival of Roman (Bakary Koné), a young man who Blackbeard commands to tell a tale when the moon bleeds red. It does, and all the inmates gather in a room and bid Roman speak his story. Roman tells them of Zama, a guerrilla Roman knew on the outside, and while he orates, the prisoners act out his story through dance, pantomime, and call and response. Roman is charmed, but when he gets wind of the fate that awaits once he finishes, Roman pulls a Scheherazade and begins to adorn Zama’s saga with ancient mythology, magic, and scenes from a movie Roman saw 20 years ago. It’s a tense piece of work, and director Philippe Lacôte maintains a firm grasp on the material until an odd choice in the third act—a wizards’ duel with bad CGI—momentarily breaks the spell.
Night of the Kings / La nuit des rois (2021)
Directed by Philippe Lacôte
Written by Philippe Lacôte in collaboration with Delphine Jaquet
Produced by Delphine Jaquet, Ernest Konan, Yanick Létourneau, Yoro Mbaye
Starring: Bakary Koné, Steve Tientcheu, Rasmané Ouédraogo, Issaka Sawadogo, Denis Lavant
Neon, Rated R, Running time 93 minutes, Opened Feb. 26, 2021.