ENJOY THE MOVIES
Philippe Lacôte's Night of the Kings follows a young pickpocket in his first night at the "MACA", one of the main prisons in Abidjan, the largest city in the Ivory Coast. As the Ivory Coast's entry for International Feature Film at this upcoming Academy Awards, Night of the Kings has the power and storytelling to inject its reality into the category. First-time actor Koné Bakary plays wide-eyed, unassured Roman, the name of the selected storyteller during the red moon, a real-life tradition still enacted at the MACA. Picked by the prison's de facto leader, "Blackbeard" (Steve Tientcheu), Roman must tell a story for the duration of the night, with failure resulting in the price of his life. In a film with high stakes and visible violence, Night of the Kings unfurls like a ballad, an ode to the weight and humanity of storytelling, and the need for tradition.
The first shot of Georgian filmmaker Dea Kulumbegashvili's debut feature Beginning settles into the back of a small chapel. Patrons waft in and sit on either side of the aisle, with men taking up the majority of the right side, and women and children on the left of the frame. The pastor, or church leader, begins talking about Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac, and the sacrifices we all must make in reverence to God. The back door opens and an unseen person throws in a Molotov cocktail of sorts, lighting the back of the chapel on fire, barricading the doors so the churchgoers can't escape. The screams and general panic sets in, though the camera remains unflinched, an objective observer staying just far enough away from the action.