Awarded in Angoulême, the new Philippe Lacôte takes us to the heart of the daily life of one of the most populous prisons in West Africa, between realism and fantasy.
A place that the filmmaker knows well
Recently awarded for its staging at the Angoulême Francophone film festival (coupled with an award for the soundtrack by Olivier Alary) a little over a year after its world premiere at the Venice Mostra, The Night of the Kings by Philippe Lacôte takes us to the MACA of Abidjan, one of the most overcrowded prisons in all of West Africa. A place that he had the opportunity to get to know reluctantly in his childhood, as he confided in Angoulême. ” My mother was imprisoned there when I was a child for opposing the policies and abuses of President Félix Houphouët-Boigny and his family. So I was going to visit him once a week. And the unique conditions of these visits allowed me to immerse myself in this place and understand how it works. For example, there was no individual visiting room so we, visitors, found ourselves in a large room, in the middle of the prisoners. Its reality jumped out at me. And it was with some of the sights and sounds of that time in mind that he constructed the script for The Night of the Kings and rebuilt the MACA in buildings in the city of Grand-Bassam, one hour from Abidjan.
A film inspired by a certain reality
We discovered the Franco-Ivorian filmmaker Philippe Lacôte in 2014 with Run, initiatory fable which drew a striking portrait of Ivory Coast. His new feature film features a young man who, imprisoned in the famous MACA, finds himself forced to comply with an ancestral ritual: that of the Novel which consists of forcing a prisoner to tell a story for a whole night to ensure his survival. . Which gives this very realistic film an atmosphere of Tales of 1001 nights while relying on very real facts. “Choosing a prisoner and making him tell endless stories every night exists in this place. It was a childhood friend who was imprisoned there who reminded me of this. And I can say that it was this idea that gave birth to The Night of the Kings where I dramatize this reality with this idea of death as the sword of Damocles which does not exist within the walls of the MACA “.
A long-term casting
It took Philippe Lacôte two years to find the entire cast of The Night of the Kings. ” I didn’t want to surround myself with professional actors for this film, with a few exceptions like Denis Lavant. So we crisscrossed the working-class neighborhoods of Abidjan, focusing on dancers, singers, acrobats, martial arts practitioners because La Nuit des rois is a very physical film. I then surrounded them with extras, many of whom were former prisoners. And I worked with them two months before the shoot to prepare them for this adventure. And so we discover Bakary Koné on the screen, impressive in the lead role and devoid of any experience in front of a camera until then.