War Witch (Rebelle) may not be a true story but it certainly feels real. Director, Kim Nguyen has previously produced fantasy films although this one is anything but. War Witch instead deals with the gritty story of a girl solider living in an unspecified location in Africa where complex things like the loss of innocence, post-traumatic stress, genocide, poverty and war-torn towns are the norm.
The film is set-up so that Komona (Rachel Mwanza) is recounting her life story to her as-yet-unborn child. It starts with her abduction at age 12 where she is forced to shoot her parents (her AK-47 is her new family) and fight for the Great Tiger’s group of rebels. “The government’s” soldiers are the enemy and just like the fictional war story, Tomorrow When The War Began the finer points regarding the identity of these foes is kept vague. But this doesn’t detract from the gruesome details and the tragedy of watching a child become indoctrinated.
By 13 she is anointed as the leader’s personal war witch because Komona can see visions that assist her in warding off danger. Along the way she falls in love with another child solider, an albino boy who she affectionately calls Magicien (Serge Kanyinda) because of his powers with sorcery. They dream of having a domestic life together and escape the “evil” clutches only to have further tragedy strike.
The film was shot in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the cast is largely made up of non-professional actors. Yet they all do a stellar job in relaying the shocking tale. Of particular note is the film’s star, Rachel Mwanza who won the Silver Bear award for Best Actress at the 2012 Berlinale for her mature and understated performance.
War Witch is a harsh story where relentless fighting and combat are combined with brave storytelling to open your eyes to this resilient young woman who is representative of the many lives lost by youths living in similar, trying conditions. It is a gruelling portrait that is told in a dark, frank and graphic manner. And while this fails to charter any new territory in a storytelling sense, it is still an intense drama and a pillar of strength amongst the scenes of bloody carnage.
Review Score: 6.5 out of 10
War Witch (Rebelle) is screening at Sydney’s Canadian Film Festival on August 19th.
Runtime: 90 minutes