Rebelle, rebelle – War Witch review

War Witch

By Richard Haridy
September 18, 2013

Canadian filmmaker Kim Nguyen‘s fourth feature, War Witch(aka Rebelle), is a strikingly immersive examination of the troubling culture surrounding child soldiers in Africa. Shot on location in the Democratic Republic Of The Congo and rich in anthropological specificity, Nguyen’s film is unexpectedly sensitive and anchored by some amazing performances.

Fourteen-year-old actress Rachel Mwanza plays Komona, a young girl forced to murder her parents by a violent group of rebels, abducted and indoctrinated into fighting for a unnamed revolutionary group against the government. The picture tracks two years in Komona’s life as she moves from becoming the rebel leader’s personal private “war witch” to escaping and falling in love with an albino soldier named Magician (Serge Kanyinda).

War Witch

War Witch has an episodic structure that initially seems meandering but ultimately comes together in a clever and sophisticated way. Writer-director Nguyen reportedly spent nearly a decade developing the screenplay and his attention to detail is incredibly evident. From observing a fire being lit by the gunpowder from a bullet to a shamanic ritual that determined what route the group took through the jungle, this obsession with the minutia of behaviour renders an immediacy to the evocation of place.

While impressive, that excessive insularity also has its drawbacks. War Witch keeps its place and politics ambiguous, never letting the audience in on a greater context to the story. This is consciously by design but it generates a relatively superficial and occasionally frustrating experience for the viewer. The drift towards magic realism also dips into a post-colonial glorification of ‘the other’ that is, at times, relatively uncomfortable. Nguyen doesn’t especially want to upset or challenge his viewers into action but rather use his African locale to generate a new take on the coming of age story.

War Witch is still a refreshingly effective film. Mwanza is stunning as Komona and, for the most part, Nguyen avoids overt dramatic contrivances leaving the viewer to feel their way through the story. The use of local music adds greatly to the flick’s presence as does the magnificent sound design. An impressive piece of cinema with a surprisingly gentle touch.

3.5/5

War Witch is now available on Quickflix.

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