Night of Kings aesthetic dissonance is discombobulating, but the discombobulation is surprisingly pleasing in its headiness, as Lacôte plays with naturalist filmmaking and spectacle right out of The Lord of the Rings, intertwining the two so much that they are, at the end, inseparable from one another.
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City of God crossed with A Prophet by way of One Thousand and One Nights, Philippe Lacôte’s Night of the Kings is an ambitious thriller that constantly surprises.
This captivating hybrid of a movie mixes fairy-tale and storytelling elements with a vividly drawn backdrop of heightened realism — no one would mistake this prison for a luxury resort — and relies on images and sounds as much as the human voice to tell its multiple stories.
The film is a celebration of oral traditions as a means of giving purpose to even the most hopeless of lives.
The film most likely work better for those with knowledge of the Ivory Coast and its tumultuous twenty-first century history, but that doesn’t mean those like me who are ignorant to that strife outside of what Lacôte and Roman provide can’t still enjoy the magic on display.
Night of the Kings occasionally strays too far into fantasy (and CGI), even though the more grounded scenes are what truly make the film sing. Still, it’s a stunning work. Lacôte’s tribute to the power of stories is a powerful story in and of itself, celebrating oral traditions and the rituals we create for ourselves in order to make life just a little more bearable.
This is an atmospherically shot film about African oral culture, about riots, street musicians and storytellers. But it also uses the space and denizens of the prison as a metaphor for the divisions and tensions within Ivorian society.
Lacôte crosses the open-ended energy of griot traditions with the surging tensions of the prison’s close quarters.
With this project, in which magical realism lends everything a mystical dimension, Lacôte confidently delivers on the promise of his 2014 Cannes-selected “Run.”
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.