¨We are rebels. Respect your guns. They´re your new mother and father.¨
War Witch, also known as Rebelle, is a Canadian film directed by Kim Nguyen that has been nominated for this year´s Academy Awards for best foreign picture. It is an enlightening film about the horrors that some children have to face in Africa when kidnapped by rebel forces. Nguyen, who also wrote the screenplay, did it in a very sensitive manner without relying on melodramatic or shocking moments. This is more of a sensitive drama focusing on a character study of a young girl´s life when forced to kill her parents and join a rebel army. The harsh and violent reality of her life is softened by her innocence and supernatural mystic powers. The film combines these two elements in such a way that it makes the movie a much lighter and pleasant viewing experience. The addition of a sweet love story between her and one of the kids in the rebel army is what balances out the ultra realistic violence in her world with a touch of magical romantic moments, such as the search for the white rooster which gives the movie a much more lighter touch in midst of all the drama. The performance from Rachel Mwanza feels so real and authentic that it makes the film work as we see how this innocent girl´s life changes as she becomes a woman in the midst of war. War Witch wouldn’t have worked if it weren’t for her unique portrayal of this character. This is a powerful film because there is no denying these things are happening in real life, and we need to put an end to this senseless brutality. Kim Nguyen does a great job with the direction of this film by adding some unique touches in the sound department, and the cinematography works really well.
The movie takes place in an undisclosed country in Africa where Komona (Rachel Mwanza), a young 14 year old pregnant girl, decides to tell her unborn child the story of her life. When she was 12, rebel forces raided her village and forced her and other children to murder their parents and join them. They were all given guns and prepared to fight for the Grand Tigre Royal (Mizinga Mwinga). She was the only child from her village to survive an early encounter against government army forces, after being warned by the ghosts of her parents to run. After this, she was considered to be a War Witch due to her mystical powers. She befriends another boy from the rebel army, who is also considered to have some sort of mystical powers and is known as the Magician (Serge Kanyinda). Together they decide to run away and hide at the Magician´s uncle´s home. He is known as the butcher (Ralph Prosper) and is very kind to the young kids who fall in love with each other. The Magician asks Komona to marry him, and she says that she can only marry him if he finds her a white rooster, which is extremely rare to find in that country. Despite the pleasant life she seems to be living, the ghosts still torment her, and after a brief moment of peace the rebels are back again to haunt her. Will Komona ever find peace in this senseless and brutal society she´s living in?
War Witch is only about 90 minutes long, which was perfect because it could have gotten heavy handed if Nguyen had decided to expand the screenplay more. I really enjoyed that he decided to include this world of superstition in the midst of all the violence because it is a great part of the African culture which is left out sometimes. Despite the violent world in which Komona was introduced too, she also was able to find love although it was short lived. Nguyen found a perfect balance between this horrific world and the magical romantic one that Komona lived in. This will not win the Oscar, because Amour is a lock at this point, but it still is a unique film that is worth checking out if you´re into foreign films. I really enjoyed this film, although I wouldn’t call it a masterpiece. It isn’t groundbreaking, but is worth seeing for the story and performances alone.