Sunday, December 27, 2020

Movie with Abe: Night of the Kings

Night of the Kings
Directed by Philippe Lacôte
Release TBD

Folklore and custom can have a powerful draw capable of uniting people from many different backgrounds and experiences. A belief in something can overpower other worldly desires, and bring together people who would otherwise have nothing to talk about and no way to honestly communicate. In developed countries with increasingly advanced technology, it is hard to find elements like this that transcend everything else, though organized religion still qualifies to a degree. When people are trapped in a specific place, like, for instance, a prison, getting on board with a particular way of approaching ritual and respecting traditions may be considerably more expected.

A new inmate (Bakary Koné) arrives at La Maca prison, deep in the forest of the Ivory Coast. He is unprepared for the night he is about to experience, which coincides with the red moon in the sky, a meaningful event for all within the prison. Blackbeard (Steve Tientcheu), who rules La Maca, is sick, and he is supposed to take his own life when he is no longer able to lead. He anoints the new arrival Roman, whose task it is to tell stories throughout the night to keep the inmates of the block, who participate enthusiastically by acting out parts of what he says, enthralled before morning eventually comes and Roman meets whatever fate awaits him.

This film, which made its premiere at fall film festivals including Venice, Toronto, and New York, is the official Oscar submission for Best International Feature from the Ivory Coast. It’s an immersive and fantastical tale that grounds itself in its moment, inviting unfamiliar audiences in to experience African culture through this ritual that is just as new and unknown to the renamed Roman. The stories he tells, about a legendary figure called Zama, are depicted not only by Roman’s words but also through cinematic recreations made even more real by the energetic and almost rhythmic physicality of the inmates who jump in to portray something he has just said.

This film is unlike many other prison movies because it leans so heavily into the story that Roman is sharing, indulging him in the liberties he takes and the manner in which the guards, seen only a few times throughout the film, stay away from the inmates knowing just how seriously they take this night and the likely casualties that will come from it. It’s the kind of foreign film that some may not find accessible but that others will appreciate greatly for the rich and truly different approach it takes both to the plot it features and the dedication to its characters that makes it a uniquely captivating experience.


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