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Night of the Kings

(Ivory Coast; French with English Subtitles): A young man, a small-time thief is sent to MACA, a prison in the Ivory Coast that is essentially run by the inmates. The leader of the inmates is close to death, and as part of the legend, he must surrender his rule, and his life, during the red moon. He chooses an inmate (who he calls “the Roman” to tell a story, and as the film progresses, we get a sense of how important that story is to the Roman in order to stay alive. This film is very beautifully shot and also very different. I was reminded of many things watching it – Romeo and Juliet with warring factions; the choreography of West Side Story; “voguing”, break-dancing, and other kinds of dance competition; and the basic horror film standard where, if you can just make it to sunrise, you will be fine. While I am not sure I totally understand the myth underlying the prison power structure, what I did understand, and greatly appreciated, is the power and beauty and importance of storytelling. I loved watching the Roman craft his yarn, which included aspects of magical realism and cultural myth. Through the story, we get an understanding of the social and political environment in the Ivory Coast. The opposing factions in the prison vying to succeed the leader act out various aspects of the story, creating a verbal and visually stunning movement piece. The camerawork and lighting are wonderful and create a world whose beauty comes alive at night. The script is spare but creates tension and suspense that keeps it moving briskly. It is quite a remarkable film and gets a very big thumbs-up from me. The film is on the shortlist for Best International Film this year. (2020; 4.5 Stars).

About Gary Burkholder

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