Film review: REBELLE (WAR WITCH), from Built For Speed

Rebelle aka War Witch is a Canadian film shot in the Congo which takes us on a harrowing journey into the world of child soldiers in sub-Saharan Africa.  Its slight narrative tells the story of Komona (Rachel Mwanza), a 12 year old girl stolen from her home by rebels and forced to become a child soldier.  Fuelled up on drugs and brutalised by constant beatings, Komona and the other children are given no choice but to fight for the war lord known as Great Tiger (Mizinga Mwinga)  against government soldiers.  When Komona displays an apparent ability to see ghosts and to detect government soldiers in the jungle, she earns the coveted status of war witch.

While this is a confronting film that delves into a tragic situation afflicting third world communities, the film is not entirely bleak. The second act includes a touching and even amusing romantic interlude reminiscent of Sampson and Delilah as Komono and a young guy named Magician (Serge Kanyinda), who is also thought to have mystical abilities, escape Great Tiger’s militia and live, albeit briefly, in an rural idyll with Magician’s uncle (Ralph Prosper).

The film often has an ethnographic documentary feel with its use of hand-held cameras, non-professional actors and naturalistic performances.  The film is, however, infused with African shamanistic culture and what we might call superstitious beliefs and consequently includes nightmare sequences in which Komono is forced to confront the ghosts of those she has killed.

The film is also infused with symbols of aspirational American culture such as soft drink ads, American cars and a hut wall-papered in Obama campaign leaflets.  Beyond these images, however, the film doesn’t attempt to place the children’s situation or the conflict in any broader political context.

Although the film is set in a war zone, the fighting scenes are sporadic and not excessively gory. Instead, the film’s impact derives from the tragedy of seeing children lives destroyed by a world in chaos.  It’s a disturbing film but there is a ray of light.


Nick’s rating: Three and a half stars.

Classification: MA

Director(s): Kim Nguyen

Release date: 14th Mar 2013

Running time:  90 mins.


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