War Witch -- A Sensitive Character Study about Child Soldiers

                                Kim Nguyen's "War Witch" (2012) starts in African village, which is being raided by the rebels. A young girl from the village is given a machine gun and is forced to shoot her mother and father. When a movie starts like this you can definitely sense that the rest of the 80 minutes will not be easy viewing. We have seen numerous films about Africa from the viewpoint of a white protagonist. So, War Witch is a rare movie about child soldiers in Africa, seen through the eyes of a 12-year-old girl, Komona. 

                             Komona (Rachel Mwanza) is 14 years old when the movie begins and she is pregnant. “I don’t know if God will give me the strength to love you,” says the child-soldier to the baby in her belly. At the age of 12 she was captured by anti-government rebels. Komona and other abducted children are issued ak-47 and are forced to join the revolution. “This is your mother and your father,” -- that is how the rebels describe the automatic weapons. She endures lot of hardships in the training and is often haunted by the ghosts of murdered villagers. One time, in the forest, the ghosts of dead warn her away from a jungle ambush. 

                          This is seen as an good omen and leads to a rebel victory. Soon she becomes "The Great Tiger's" (rebel leader) "War Witch." The title gives her temporary protection but not the peaceful life. Komona also develops a loving relationship with a young albino soldier 'Magician' (Serge Kanyinda). The two escapes from the rebels and leads a normal life in the residence of Magician's gentle uncle . But, remember in this story, danger is never far away. 

                             Komona played by Rachel Mwanza is a former street child. Her inner wounds are silently expressed in what we may call as a contained and deeply affecting performance. In most of the movies set in Africa, the characters like Komona are all given a alienating sheen, which doesn't happen anywhere in the movie. Watching Mwanza's and quvenzhané wallis' (in "Beasts of Southern Wild") performance you could definitely feel how Oscars are over-rated. Montreal director Kim Nguyen depicts the varied worlds the protagonist passes through within Africa's interior. Had the script been handed over to a Hollywood studio, you might see Komona’s devastating story, streaked with humanitarian appeals and sweeping African landscapes. 

                         Nguyen makes the journey filled with surprises, giving the character depth and turning her into much more than a victim. War Witch may be made by an Canadian director and crew but this is anything but an overwrought depiction of atrocities in the third world. At some scenes, you could recall Terrence Malick's visual style, with its casual acceptance of events as they occur and mindful connection to the present moment. Another impressive point about Nguyen's direction is his ability to avoid any kind of excess – either of manipulative emotion or graphic violence. Nicolas Bolduc's hand-held cinematography makes this a more powerful and worthwhile film. 

                           "War Witch" is not just about Africa. It is about all the conflict zones in our world where cowardly adults make children do unspeakable things. Yes, the movie's theme is almost too horrible to contemplate but  it also endows into that narrative, a notion of hope and resilience in the heart of a child. 


War Witch (Rebelle) -- IMDb 


Sunil Deepak said...

Your review has made me curious to watch it. The name Nguyen is Vietnamese, so may be the director is vietnamese-canadian and that makes for a different kind of direction!

Arun Kumar said...

@Sunil deepak, Thanks for the comment. Yeah, Kim Nguyen's father is a Vietnamese.

Haricharan Pudipeddi said...

Thanks for recommending this film. I intend to watch it soon and share my views.

Vinita Apte said...

An intriguing film...has some shades of blood diamond in it....will definitely watch it.

Arun Kumar said...

@Haricharan, Thanks for the comment. Will be looking out for your review.

@Vinita, Thanks for the comment. "War Witch" is more realistic than "Blood Diamond", which was good but had some Hollywood elements in it.