Night of the Kings (La nuit des rois)

Philippe Lacôte

France, Côte d’Ivoire, Canada, Senegal, 2020 / 93 min / French & Dyula OV with French subt. / Drama, Fantasy

LuxFilmLab – 4th August 2021

To survive his first night in an infamous Ivorian prison, a new inmate must entertain his fellow prisoners with an epic tale until dawn.

When a young man is incarcerated in the imposing and overcrowded La MACA prison deep in the forest outside the Ivorian city of Abidjan, he finds himself entering a world as dangerous and complex as the one he was navigating on the outside. While ostensibly overseen by a team of rundown guards, the prison is really ruled by a notorious convict, Blackbeard. Weakened by illness and old age, Blackbeard sees his power waning and makes one final play to maintain control over the prison: on the night of a lunar eclipse, he designates the newcomer MACA’s new “Roman.” Tradition dictates that the “Roman” has to entertain his fellow prisoners with a strong story for one night. Learning what fate awaits him if his fellow inmates don’t hang on his every word, the young inmate begins to narrate the mystical tale of legendary outlaw Zama King and has no choice but to make his story last until dawn.

With his sophomore feature, Ivorian filmmaker Philippe Lacôte refuses all genre expectations and plays with the art of oration in inventive ways, flowing between a prison drama and visually stunning sequences that depict Roman’s elaborate tale. Further incorporating song and dance, Night of the Kings is a mesmerising meditation on the art of storytelling and its role in survival.

Wed 04/08 19:00 Ciné Utopia FR & Dyula OV with FR subt. Public

“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. […] “Night of the Kings” is through and through an intoxicating and immersive visual experience even as it unfolds almost like a filmed play. […] The scenes inside the prison maintain a strong sense of realism, even with a lunatic Denis Lavant haunting the edges as La MACA’s sole white inmate. But when Roman takes flight into his story […] “Night of the Kings” moves into the realm of fantasy. […] It makes for an ambitious, time-hopping trip that should keep audiences as entranced as it does the inmates. While there are potential political allegories to be drawn, “Night of the Kings” is primarily a fantasy — the title comes from the French for Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” after all — a paean to storytelling that succeeds on its own terms as a celebration of the very act itself.” Ryan Lattanzio, IndieWire, 10/09/2020

““Night of the Kings” is a whole ecosystem of a movie, with civilizations waiting for discovery in the words of its storyteller heroes. […] Lacôte’s fashioned a kind of thrift store calligraphy with which to tell this story, pulling from both the iconic Cinema du Look mode […] and the rich and inventive tradition of Subsaharan African filmmaking. […] This is a frequently beautiful film about the way we crave narrative to make sense of one kind of imprisonment or another. […] The film has the tragic cool of the best of punk cinema, the rhythm of a hip-hop song, and the contours and staying power of a folktale.” Scout Tafoya,, 04/10/2020

“Playing out like a grueling bout of interpretive dance, this fresh take on the Scheherazade mythos from One Thousand and One Nights plays like the necessary escapist fantasy lodged within a dire scenario, and damned if the audience isn’t equally lured into Lacôte’s visual charms as effortlessly as his main protagonist can spin them.” Nicholas Bell,, 23/02/2021

“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 main motor of the narrative isn’t actually suspense at all, but the sheer force of the various tales themselves and how they keep branching off in different directions only to unexpectedly reconnect or be reinvented and recast. Lacôte generally touches on subjects such as the importance of stories and storytelling as well as the fact that even some of the best stories don’t stand up to close scrutiny.” Boyd van Hoeij, The Hollywood Reporter, 08/09/2020

“Despite its bleak context, “Night of the Kings” is a celebration of oral traditions as a means of giving purpose to even the most hopeless of lives. That a film so frequently harrowing can so often feel joyous without every trivializing the state of its characters’ imprisonment is a testament to the way that Lacôte resolutely finds the meaning embedded within ritual, and how the activities of the inmates, however strange, constitute routines every bit as normalizing as the daily tasks of those living their lives outside the walls of the prison.” Jake Cole, Slant Magazine, 13/09/2020

“a violent, hyper-masculine film that worships the power of storytelling. […] With “Night of the Kings” Lacôte collapses the bounds between eras, and dissolves myth and reality, performance and remembrance, into one whole. It’s an assured, energetic piece of epic filmmaking, one that celebrates how storytelling, oration, and folklore teach us about our past so we might change our present.” Robert Daniels,, 26/02/2021

“The filmmaker doesn’t limit himself to the classic dramatic tension of the prison film genre. By opening up doors to other worlds from within his story, he has managed to inject it with the pulsation of the Africa of griots, blending together irrational beliefs and the realism of survival and crime which characterise the neighbourhoods of the outskirts and are related to the civil war that took place in Ivory Coast in 2010-2011. […] Interlacing several layers of story within a single film is a rather risky enterprise, but Philippe Lacôte manages to give a remarkable homogeneity to a vivid ensemble that draws upon the entire African imaginary and fervour. […] The director succeeds at transcribing all the energy of this mix in a gripping and seductive film that sharply veers off the beaten track.” Fabien Lemercier, Cineuropa, 07/09/2020

“Ivorian filmmaker Philippe Lacote has a background in radio and radio plays, so he knows the value of a well-told story. In his second feature, he plays with the art of oration in inventive ways, which is never a one-way street in La Maca. It is much more an exciting interplay between narrator and listener that combines dance, combat, song, poetry and prose.” International Film Festival Rotterdam

  • Amplify Voices Award, Toronto International Film Festival, 2020 (Canada)
  • IFFR Youth Jury Award, International Film Festival Rotterdam, 2021 (Netherlands)
  • Artistic Achievement Award, Thessaloniki Film Festival, 2020 (Greece)
  • Best Sound, Chicago International Film Festival, 2020 (USA)
  • Best Cinematography, Chicago International Film Festival, 2020 (USA)
  • Directors to Watch, Palm Springs International Film Festival, 2021 (USA)
  • NBR Award – Top Five Foreign Language Films, National Board of Review, 2021 (USA)
  • Outstanding International Motion Picture, NAACP Image Awards, 2021 (USA)
  • Outstanding Foreign Film, Black Reel Awards, 2021 (USA)
  • Best Foreign Film, Black Film Critics Circle Awards, 2021 (USA)
  • Best Foreign Film, African-American Film Critics Association, 2021 (USA)
Cast & Credits
Bakary Koné, Steve Tientcheu, Rasmané Ouédraogo, Issaka Sawadogo, Jean Cyrille Digbeu, Abdoul Karim Konaté, Anzian Marcel, Denis Lavant, Laetitia Ky
Philippe Lacôte
Tobie Marier-Robitaille
Pierre-Jules Audet, Emmanuel Croset
Samuel Teisseire
Olivier Alary
Banshee Films, Wassakara Productions, Périphéria, Yennenga Productions
Imagine Film Distribution

Philippe Lacôte grew up near a cinema in Abidjan, the former capital of Côte d’Ivoire. He started his filmmaking career in 1994 with the short Somnambule which he followed up with several other fiction and documentary shorts. In 2002, at the outbreak of the Ivorian civil war, he began working on Chronicles of War in the Ivory Coast, a medium-length film – part documentary, part video diary – that was going to tackle his native country’s recent history and which wouldn’t be released until 2008. His first feature film, the drama Run (2014), was selected for “Un Certain Regard” in Cannes, establishing him as one of the most vibrant new voices of African cinema. His second feature, Night of the Kings (2020), debuted at the Venice Film Festival and has since won over critics at multiple international festivals, including Toronto, Thessaloniki, Chicago, Munich and Rotterdam. According to Lacôte, the film – selected by Côte d’Ivoire for the Oscars race 2021 – is inspired by his own childhood visits to the La MACA prison where his mother was incarcerated for political reasons.

  • 2020 – La nuit des rois
  • 2018 – Les routes de l’esclavage (3 episodes of the documentary TV series)
  • 2014 – Run
  • 2013 – To Repel Ghosts (short in the “African Metropolis” anthology)
  • 2008 – Chroniques de guerre en Côte d’Ivoire (documentary short)
  • 2007 – Le passeur (short)
  • 2002 – Cairo Hours (documentary short)
  • 2001 – Affaire Libinski (short)
  • 1994 – Somnambule (short)