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Kings male hierarchies inside prison walls are well-trod ground, from “Brute Force” and “Birdman of Alcatraz,” to Kings “Papillon,” “Midnight Express,” and “The Shawshank Redemption.” But rarely is an entry as visually rapturous as West African filmmaker Philippe Lacôte’s “Night of the Kings,” which takes place inside the bowels of the infamous La MACA prison in Abidjan, a city on the south side of the Ivory Coast. While the film, both written and directed by Lacôte, is grounded in oral traditions that may seem exotic to certain viewers, the movie is really about the universal power of storytelling regardless of tongue — and how it can be used as a way to survive. Though hampered by some shaky third-act visual effects, “Night of the Kings” is through and through an intoxicating and immersive visual experience even as it unfolds almost like a filmed play.

When a young man (Koné Bakary, delivering a solid first-time performance) is introduced into La MACA, he’s thrust into a dangerous and complicated world where the existentially and otherwise beaten-down guards pretty much let the prisoners run the show led by legacy prisoner Blackbeard (Steven Tientcheu, star of 2020 foreign Oscar nominee “Les Misérables”). Blackbeard is on his way out, preparing to die by suicide to allow for a successor, but he’s not going out quietly. In a final power play to manipulate his lackeys and their latest charge, he dubs the young man “Roman” and, on the night of a red moon, the newcomer is forced to recount a story of his choosing or invention until sunrise if he wants to stay alive. (This is, it turns out, a very real practice in La MACA even if they don’t actually kill the inmate once the story’s over.)

Duration: 86 min


IMDb: 5.0