Movie Review: War Witch (@IFFK)

(This appeared on THE WEEK web site. Click here to read it online.)

Film: War Witch (2012)
Duration: 90 minutes
Director: Kim Nguyen
Cast: Rachel Mwanza, Alain Bastein, Serge Kanyinda, Ralph Prosper

Set amidst the civil war in an unnamed African country, War Witch tells the story of 14-year-old Komona (Rachel Mwanza), in her own words, as she narrates it to her unborn child. She is kidnapped by a rebel outfit that is fighting the government and is made to shoot her parents, freeing them from a much painful death. She is recruited to the rebel group along with many other children. They are taken to the jungle, and have guns thrust into their hands.

They make her drink a white ‘magic milk’ taken from a tree’s bark, which Komona later comes to believe is the reason behind her visions of white ghosts who appear before her to signal danger. As she is left as the sole survivor in a shootout against the government forces, the group and its chief, the Great Tiger, believes that she has supernatural powers that help her sense the enemy’s arrival. She is given a special reward and hailed as the ‘war witch’.

But she escapes the camp with the only person she befriends there, a boy she calls Magician (Serge Kanyinda). Love blossoms between the young rebels and Magician proposes to Komona, who asks him to get her a traditional white rooster before he can ask for her hand. What follows is a quite enjoyable and hilarious trip in search of the rooster, which he finally finds and she accepts his proposal.

But as bad luck would have it, the rebels find them and take her back after killing Magician. Back at the camp, Komona is subjected to more brutality. She is raped by the commander of the camp, who impregnates her. She repeatedly sees the ghosts of her parents, asking her to perform their last rites in their village. Does Komona’s baby survive? Does she go back to her village to let her parents free yet again? The rest of the film revolves around these questions.

Mwanza’s performance is beyond words. She conveys Komona’s pain and her determination with equal élan. All the light moments in the film belong to Kanyinda’s Magician. He does his part with ease and the warmth he brings to his character is missed the most towards the end of the film. Nguyen’s use of unprofessional actors adds credibility and authenticity to the film, just as the locations do.

But what deserves special mention is the soulful African folk background score that moves and blends so well with the narrative like just another character. The film, after the rather violent and gory beginning, ends on a positive note of renewed hope and new life.

 

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