Night of the Kings, Film4, Directed and written by Philippe Lacôte.||

Most prison movies tend to be about escape, or redemption, or both and act as morality plays. Stephen King’s short story turned into a longer film, The Shawshank Redemption, is familiar to most of us. Night of the Kings has a fairy tale feel to it which lifts it out of the ordinary.

The plot is simple. Roman (Koné Bakary) needs to make it through the night of the red moon by keeping the prisoners entertained by his storytelling. He’s been discreetly warned by another inmate that should he fail, his forfeit will be his life. He’ll be hanged on a hook as others before him.

MACA Prison is controlled by the criminal fraternity of the Ivory Coast. An inmate is elected Dangôro. Blackbeard is King of MACA Prison. His word is law inside the prison walls. But if a King becomes ill, he must kill himself. We see Blackbeard wheeling about an oxygen tank and gasping in air. He’s reminded by his subordinates about the Rule of the King.

Blackbeard offers Roman up as an offering to buy more time.  Roman begins the story of the death of Zama King, the leader of the Microbes. A group of young thieves of which he was a member in the Lawless Quarter slum of Abidjan. When God has said yes, no man can say no.

His storytelling is harmonized and actions mimicked by other prisoners. Blackbeard pays for a meal for inmates, which is served.

Roman begins a tale of Zama King’s early life. Prisoners listen. We, the viewers, get to see the action onscreen.  After the murder of his mother, Zama, for example, is raised by his father Soni, a blind beggar. Soni becomes the advisor of a local queen after convincing her that he can talk to the stars. But we see she too has mystical powers.

Roman’s story is interrupted by the murder of Koby, one of Blackbeard’s confidants. His throat cut while getting a blowjob from Pretty, who dresses and looks like a woman.

The state institution and grim setting set against a magical backdrop. Ticking clock. A power struggle. Will Roman see the light? Does he deserve to? Wonderful to watch and see and hear.