Storytelling has played a vital role within communities and societies since humans first invented spoken languages. Predating writing, it’s the way that we’ve been able to pass on our histories, myths, legends and religions from generation to generation.  These oral traditions have been vital for the evolution of our species. It still plays a huge role in many countries, such as Côte d’Ivoire, and forms the central focus for La nuit des rois.

Deep in the forest outside the city of Abidjan lurks the imperious and foreboding jail of La Maca. Tradition dictates that on a lunar eclipse a ‘Roman’ must be chosen. A new arrival (Bakary Koné) is picked by Balckbeard (Steve Tientcheu), the prison’s current kingpin. His task is to entertain the inmates throughout the night with a tall tale. Whilst he recounts the story of King Zama, a power struggle is slowly unfolding.

La nuit des rois is a ripping yarn set in the hothouse atmosphere of a prison rebellion. The joy of Philippe Lacôte’s film is just how well it flows. It’s a story within a story, featuring ‘political’ machinations which wouldn’t look out of place in a Shakespearian tragedy. It’s beautifully shot, in a way which immerses the audience into the heart of the action. La nuit des rois is storytelling at its most vibrant.

La nuit des rois screens at International Film Festival Rotterdam.