War Witch (Rebelle)
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 12 May 2013
This Oscar-nominated film dramatises the plight of child soldiers in sub-Saharan Africa, as 14-year old Komona recounts the harrowing story to her unborn child of how she came to be stained by bloodshed.
The opening shots are documentary-like in their impassivity before Komona is swiftly kidnapped from her village, orphaned and trained to kill (the rebel commander tells his young recruits that the gun is now their “mother and father”). On entering the forests where her new family massacres the government soldiers, Komona finds her calling as a prescient witch, a skill that provides protection and importance in the eyes of the head rebel, Great Tiger.
Novice teenage actress Rachel Mwanza deservedly won the Best Actress prize at the Berlin Film Festival for her phenomenal performance – stunning in its restraint and yet all the more amazing given that when the filmmakers discovered her she was an illiterate street kid in the Congo. In a gentle, thoughtful voiceover Komona’s dulcet French tones belie the horror she experiences and is forced to perpetuate.
Thankfully, beautifully realised mysticism and an underlying love story help to lighten the mood slightly, with the children even finding time to play kung fu and watch generator-driven Van Damme movies.
The sound design is impeccable, in certain scenes mercifully dullened (which only mildly lessens the trauma) and the characters seem like real people caught on camera in the course of daily life. Though the premise won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, this exquisite film is an example of flawless filmmaking.