War Witch – Movie Review
By Ron Wilkinson Mar 11, 2013, 17:41 GMT
Somewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa, Komona a 14-year-old girl tells her unborn child growing inside her the story of her life since she has been at war. Everything started when she was abducted by the rebel army at the age of 12. ...more
This is a straight ahead essay on warfare at its worst and the survival of the human spirit at its best.
Filmed in the Congo and submitted as the Best Foreign Language Film nominee by Canada, “War Witch” is a riveting study into the psychology of African guerrilla warfare. The film starts at an isolated village in a part of Africa that few people in the world even know exists. The village becomes aware of an unusual sound, the sound of several motorized boats approaching the thatched huts. Immediately the word spreads, the alarm is raised and everybody who can do so runs for the bush. It is well known what the sound of motors brings to the village, rape and pillage by the prevailing gang of thugs masquerading as political rebels.
The village has little to steal. However, it is not money or goods that the thieves want, but humans. They take the small children to be brainwashed and turned into soldiers in their small band of renegades. As they depart with their few chosen children, those with parents and loved ones are required to carry out the first act of their de-humanization. They are required to kill their families as a sign of their allegiance to the mob. Komona (Rachel Mwanza) is twelve years old when she is dragged to her parents, in front of their hut. What follows is one of the most realistic and terrifying scenes of brutality ever shown on the screen.
Leaving her village, Komona is taken far away, trained to shoot and to follow basic combat tactics by her commandant-rebelle (Alain Lino Mic Eli Bastien). Her commandant is her mother, father and god. She kills for him, with sacrifice her life for him and sleeps with him. Even so, given an AK-47, she and a dozen or so like her are considered nothing but cannon fodder, targets for the government troops. They will be the sacrificial canaries who will draw ambush fire and save the ring leaders from death (or capture, which means the worst possible death).
In the course of her training, Komona is befriended by one of the slightly older child soldiers, the boy Magician (Serge Kanyinda). He does small favors for her, gives her food and water, when he can, and when she is not under the psychotic glare of her commandant. Surviving her first ambush by what appears to be pure luck; Komona achieves spiritual status amongst her peers. Soon, she is chosen for the privileged position of war witch by the mob war lord, Grand Tigre Royal (Mizinga Mwinga). From that point on, she makes the rules, or at least some of the rules. She is still a slave in the gang, but she has certain rights. Komona is growing up.
This is a coming-of-age story that makes a mockery of any coming-of-age story that has come before it. Whereas most children learn to share and be self-sufficient as they grow up, Komona learns to kill others and to be prepared to kill herself at any time. Her delayed coming-of-age is the tortuous realization that she is more than a murderer and that life, and love, offer something more than self-hatred and self-destruction. Soon she discovers what happens to witches when they fall into disfavor with Grand Tigre. There is no loyalty here, only superstition, jealousy and domination.
Komona goes through these changes before she is fourteen.
This is a vital story of the violence that has infected and permeated many isolated regions of the world. It is a world of warlords, mob violence and child abuse. On a larger scale, it is wages of tyranny that continue to infect isolated areas of the world that have been left behind by developing countries and armed by past and present political infighting. There is a story here to protect the children of the world and stop this senseless violence in any way possible. In the end, Komona is forced to revisit her past and confront the spirits of her parents in the same way that the world must recognize the evil taking place in forgotten regions, and move to rectify it.
Director Kim Nguyen is an award winning, ultra indie director with credits for his debut “Le Marais” and the 2008 Montreal Film Festival’s opening film “Truffe.” This, his latest film, is an essay on third world warfare that should be seen all over the world, especially by international policy makers.
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Directed and Written by: Kim Nguyen
Starring: Rachel Mwanza, Alain Lino Mic Eli Bastien and Serge Kanyinda
Release Date: March 1, 2013
MPAA: Not Rated
Run Time: 90 minutes
Language: French / Lingala
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