Lacôte uses Roman’s story to explain the historical cycle of violence and how this cycle has affected his country. Lacôte also adds another dimension to Roman’s narrative by making prisoners of the MACA actors of Roman. Like a Greek choir, they intervene in Roman’s prayer to perform songs dedicated to Zama. They either applaud or laugh at Roman’s narrative twists (we know Roman knew Zama, but we can’t say if he’s telling us facts or fiction). At one point, Roman describes Zama as a scorpion and the prisoners band together to intimate a scorpion. Inmates do not look for the truth in their storyteller. They know his story is absurd. Nonetheless, there is magic in letting a story invade your mind, body, and spirit. It is this disbelief of an admittedly unreliable narrator that gives these men freedom beyond prison walls.
The way Lacôte uses Roman thread to not only blend ancient folklore with the creation of modern myths, but also theatrical song and dance, is a formidable cinematic feat. Lacôte explored these subjects in his previous film “Run”, but here they are pushed to more elaborate parameters. It’s also backed up by the evocative cinematography of Tobie Marier-Robitaille, which gracefully follows the unique mood of each era, from the urgent orange lighting of the prison to the warm purple regality of the period pieces section, in passing through the luminous flatness of the current Lawless Quarter. Marier-Robitaille captures how the amber lamp that twinkles on Roman’s chest matches the ticking red moon, functioning as the film’s main hidden character.
The trick of “La nuit des rois” is also to know how Lacôte protects its history, which is always in the process of collapsing into winding turns, or digressions, to maintain a lucid rhythm. “The Night of the Kings” never lags during its 93 minutes of wind in part because the characters are only plays. Take Silence (Denis Lavant), an eccentric coot with a rooster perched on his shoulder, whose only role is to warn Roman. Or the ostensible patsy, the Sexy transgender prisoner (Gbazi Yves Landry). The flat characters would blunt most movies, but given the complex nature of Lacôte’s world-building, the underdevelopment is actually an asset that allows the sprawling cinematic space to breathe. Just like Koné’s high-pitched performance.
With “La nuit des rois”, Lacôte breaks down the boundaries between eras and dissolves myth and reality, performance and memory, into a whole. It’s a confident and energetic epic film, which celebrates how storytelling, prayer and folklore teach us about our past so we can change our present.