Monday, 10 September 2012
REBELLE (WAR WITCH) - TIFF 2012 - Review By Greg Klymkiw
War Witch (aka Rebelle) (2012) ***1/2
Dir. Kim Nguyen
Starring: Rachel Mwanza, Alain Lino Mic Eli Bastien, Serge Kanyinda
Review By Greg Klymkiw
When Central African rebel soldiers invade a peaceful village to forcibly recruit "volunteers" for the cause, 12-year-old Komona (Rachel Mwanza) is ordered to kill her own parents. If she refuses, she's told that death for her Mother and Father will be long and painful and she has the chance, the power, the "opportunity" to end their lives swiftly. Looking into the pleading eyes of the man and woman who brought her into the world, nurtured her and loved her, the real question is whether she has the will to shoot them - to snuff out their lives so they will not be tortured to death.
Komona has no real choice in the matter.
Eventually bundled off into the jungle, she and the other kidnapped children are handed AK-47s and informed that the guns will henceforth be their mothers and fathers. They're sworn to uphold the values of the rebels and do battle to the death.
If we are witness to "the collapse of childhood" as defined by the recent and utterly shocking Save The Children report entitled "Childhood Under Fire", this is surely it - though horrifyingly, these opening minutes of Canadian director Kim Nguyen's unrelenting feature drama War Witch (aka Rebelle) is merely the tip of the iceberg with respect to the "collapse" of Komona's childhood.
Save the Children's report details how societal breakdown during the current war in Syria (now in its third year) is yielding strife in terms of malnutrition, sanitation, lack of medical supplies, no schooling, improper access to heat, shelter, clothing and, not surprisingly, constant physical assaults upon children resulting in both physical and psychological trauma and death. Most sickening are the statistics revealing how children are recruited as pawns or active participants in the conflict.
In Nguyen's fictional, but fact-based drama, Komona - like so many children in war - are individually and/or collectively helpless in the face of such violent conflicts, so much so that they're instilled with the sorrowful need to join the conflict if it can't be beaten. Worst of all, they're pretty much terrorized into submission.
As the film progresses, Komona is raped by the rebel leader and eventually gives birth to a child. She is befriended by a young albino boy and together this strange family unit faces even more horror while attempting to hold on to some vestige of humanity during the conflict. Poor Komona even narrates the tale as an extended monologue to her child - wondering if she'll ever be able to love it the same way her own parents loved her. Under the circumstances, one cannot really find fault in her for these feelings and we eventually experience a further collapse in the childhood of her baby.
Introduced to the hallucinogenic qualities of a special tree sap, Komona is able to numb herself to the pain of her life, but she's also instilled with a six sense which puts her in an extremely valuable position with the rebels. She's become a war with and will remain protected - so long as her sap-induced prophesies prove irrefutable.
God help this child if and when she makes a mistake.
Nguyen unfurls this tale with an almost restrained quality which lends an even more creepy mise=en-scene (replete with gorgeous, floating hand-held photography). The performances by mostly non-professionals are rooted in experience. Seeing non-actors portraying people who have had such a collapse in their childhood is nothing short of devastating. Knowing that all these actors have, in one way or another, been borne out of such experiences lends a kind of credence one would NOT get if played by mere sctors.
War Witch is clearly one of the most moving experiences you'll have.
"War Witch" from Mongrel Media premieres at TIFF 2012.