Night of the Kings

Le Maca is a prison in Cote d’Ivoire, run by its inmates. The prison commander and warders watch them through metal slits in the wall, with the anarchic prison-village being the equivalent of a gigantic cell. King of Le Maca is Blackbeard (Steve Tientcheu, last seen in the magnificent Les Misérables). The tradition is that when he is sick, he has to take his own life and a new successor is appointed.

Blackbeard sees a way to prolong the inevitable when a new inmate appears (Koné Bakary); he appoints him ‘Roman’ – the story-teller who has to tell a tale on the night of the red moon.  Advised by Silence – a marvellous cameo from Denis Lavant – that his life depends upon his story, Scheherazade-like he weaves a fantastical tale about the life of recently executed gangster Zama King. In true griot style, his story meanders throughout the age of Ivoirian Kings and Queens, while his audience enacts the scenes with relish and vigour.

Philippe Lacôte has based this magical-realist feast on his own experiences as a child growing up in Abidjan and visits to the notorious Maca. Through this extravagant offering he creates a parable of fact and fiction, with the events Le Maca representing a microcosm of Ivoirian politics. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for the anthropologist and African in me, brought up on oral tradition and mythology, it is a glorious mixture of drama, thriller and theatre in the oldest tradition.

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