Night of the Kings (Courtesy of NEON)

Starring: Koné Bakary, Steve Tientcheu, Rasmané Ouédraogo, Issaka Sawadogo, Denis Lavant

Director: Phillipe Lacôte

Running Time: 93 Minutes

Rating: R for A Bit of Nudity and a Fairly Violent Prison Milieu

Release Date: February 26, 2021 (Theaters)/March 5, 2021 (On Demand)

I recently had the pleasure of watching Night of the Kings, Côte d’Ivoire’s official entry for Best International Feature Film at the 93rd Academy Awards. If you’re familiar with classic international literature, it will probably strike you as it struck me, i.e., as a modern Ivorian version of the Arabian Nights. The setting is the notorious MACA Prison, which is essentially run by the inmates. A new prisoner who is dubbed “Roman” (Koné Bakary) finds himself thrust into the worst of it, as he is forced to tell a story over the course of the night, and if his fellow inmates don’t like what he’s offering, the penalty is death.

Luckily for Roman, he is able to summon his inner Scherherazade without too much fuss. And luckily for us, director Phillipe Lacôte has the requisite visual craftsmanship to match his main character’s imagination. There aren’t too many other movies nowadays that feature a woman dancing in a way that turns an elephant into a hawk, after all. As a lifelong American resident who only gets bits and pieces of African news, I don’t know much about the culture of Côte d’Ivoire, and I imagine that Night of the Kings represents only a very small piece of that culture anyway. But I think it offers a fine opportunity to take your first bite to discover what Ivorian cinema is all about. Much like the MACA inmates, I found it compelling because of the enduring, worldwide appeal of just listening to someone tell a story. On a narrative and thematic level, I’m not entirely sure how to best explain Night of the Kings, but on an emotional level, I can say with confidence that it felt just right and just so.

Night of the Kings is Recommended If You Like: City of God, Framing devices of characters telling a story, Giving a chance to movies from countries you know very little about

Grade: 3.5 of 5 Microbes