Night of the Kings Film: A Mesmerizing Griot Transcendent Storytelling

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Lush greens are covering the first frames and then we see the notorious ‘La Maca’ enveloped in between the greens in the middle of the forest. Entry into the maca is full of shrieks, shouts and calls that you can expect from a prison environment.

Night of the Kings movie stills

We are introduced to Kone Bakary, known as ‘Roman’ the storyteller. Blackbeard is the inmate who runs Maca and gives him the name Roman. Night of the kings is a story about a boy who needs to keep telling a story until dawn and if he doesn’t he will be killed. The only way to survive is to keep running with the story.

Night of the Kings: The Story is Very Mystical and Magical in Ways it Mesmerizes You

When roman is narrating the story of ‘Zama King’ the one who is the famous murderer and a handyman. The staging is done so well that the other inmates start to enact parts of it and that is one of the most captivating experiences one can have. Roman keeps improvising on the go and tries dragging it as long as possible by asking questions to the inmates. The sync between the inmates and roman creates a magical experience, it feels like one is hearing magical fables in a desert, the imaginative parts were brilliant too. Once roman starts speaking we see those imaginative sequences.

The story goes on and he can captivate every one of them. Eventually roman can drag a part of his story halfway to dawn when a fight breaks out between the inmates. Two factions want control over the prison. Blackbeard kills himself as according to tradition you need to leave leadership and die when ill. The authorities who administer the prison open fire that kills a few of them to control the situation.

Eventually, it’s dawn and roman can escape death because of silence one of the inmates warns him of his impending death and tells him to keep running with the story if he wants to survive. The last shot ends with Roman basking in the sun with a sigh.

Night of the Kings film stills

The story is told so well that you are enthralled by its 90 minutes runtime and longing for more. Phillipe Lacote does a great job of creating a chaotic environment. Chaos is felt on screen, the narrative is excellent and the musical chant in the background just immerses you in the experience. This is a different kind of prison movie. Characters deliver strong performances.  My favorites being Blackbeard and Roman.

There are few things that I’d like to say the start of the scene when Roman enters La Maca he just feels overwhelmed by the people shrieking shouting their guts out as if they were out for blood and that just felt scary like for Roman whos a newbie to all this. It just felt too much like entering this super dangerous zone that can be seen as the police drag him around. It just feels like the inmates are hungry for him. From the entry moment, Blackbeard declares him Roman the storyteller. Roman is just confused. He’s confused and scared at the same time and doesn’t know how to respond. Should he be bold or should he have a weird expression? The inmates drag him around. In the first scene where we see La Maca from the outside behind the metal nets, it just feels like a loss of freedom but that doesn’t come to mind, rather the people who look crazed and ready to eat him on the spot.

Kone Bakary’s facial expressions are outstanding and convey most of the message throughout the screen time. From the moment he’s out of the truck to the moment he’s dragged in LA Maca it’s all in his expressions. There is no dialog in the initial scenes so there’s a lot for the audience to figure out but that made me engaged all the more.

In a still from Night of the Kings

When Roman enters he doesn’t know how to react and all he knows is that they can be good with him one second and bang him up in the other, the people in there just feel unpredictable, as a viewer you feel like escaping the place the moment you enter it.

Roman is totally bamboozled not knowing what to do, how to react, and on top of that, he meets the top boss of the prison hierarchy Blackbeard.

To speak and Tell a Story is to Live for Roman

The sheer agony that he goes through to live in that hell can be seen through his expressions. He just feels alien in the environment when he looks at others. He is fighting for his life there and every second anything can happen. But to live you gotta do what you gotta do so he starts speaking at the ceremony when the red moon is spotted.

Only when the red moon is realized the tradition is supposed to start and when it is spotted the whole prison comes to life. Chits are passed around, preparations are made as well as lights and food are prepared. It’s like a celebration and entertainment night for the inmates.

When Roman finally enters the place where the crowd has gathered and are waiting for him to recite the stories they start booming out ROMAN! ROMAN! ROMAN! ROMAN! People have gathered around in a circle and make way for him to enter and surround. Immediately when he is surrounded the claustrophobia sets in and he just tries to adjust to it as quickly as possible without a second thought. Roman is hesitant at first when he starts speaking but quickly makes up for it and tries to pull himself together.

In a still from Night of the Kings

At one moment the crowd is cheering him on and the other they’re screaming and it’s just a different feel to the whole situation. For Roman, the intention is to just go along with his story in a do-or-die situation. As he goes on with the story he sees the abrupt entry of a group of actors who go along with whatever he is saying and portray it. It feels extremely theatrical. At first, he is not able to grasp it but later he synchronizes their movements and portrayals and it feels mystical and magical. That moment when Roman and enactors were in sync just got me extremely engrossed. I felt the rhythm they were in.  The audience was totally encapsulated by the same.

In a still from Night of the Kings

There is this moment in between the story that Roman is narrating that there is a group of these singers that jump and fill in and add chorus, that just adds to the whole environment all at the time when Roman is fighting for his life while others are getting entertained at his price.

The Movie Culture Synopsis

Night of the Kings is an extremely unique approach to storytelling which I hadn’t experienced to date. I was mesmerized. It is a fantastical mesmerizing barf inducing chaos, brimming with life & with tension in every scene and snake-like camera movements that all make it a unique experience.  Philippe Lacôte does a great job getting all of this aggregated in a package and making us a part of this crazy world. By the way, this is really a tradition that is carried on in La Maca though killing doesn’t happen, I guess.