Affecting drama about a child soldier in Sub Saharan Africa
When a film begins with its 12-year old protagonist being handed a gun and forced to kill her own parents, you can be confident that the following 90 minutes will not be easy viewing. Such is the case with Canadian writer/director Kim Nguyen’s powerful film, the story of Komona (Rachel Mwanza), a young girl kidnapped by rebels and turned into a child soldier in an unnamed part of Sub-Saharan Africa. It is a work of fiction, but the uncomfortable sense that stories like it have happened and still happen in this world instils War Witch with an inescapable air of reality. But while the film is certainly a potent and sometimes harrowing portrayal of injustice, it is not heavy-handed, but done with skill and sensitivity. Nguyen has two brilliant collaborators: Mwanza, whose subtle and complex performance draws the audience from simple pity to full-hearted compassion, and cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc, who creates moments of Malickesque beauty amidst the brutality, ensuring the film strikes the eyes as much as the heart.
As the title implies, the film also has supernatural concerns: Komona is called ‘war witch’ by her kidnappers and adopted as an omen of victory, while her journey is presented as halfway between dream and reality. Nguyen confidently shifts tones, even taking a detour into something like a lovers-on-the-run story when Komona finds brief but sweetly sincere love with a fellow orphan of the war. But in this story, danger is never far away.
Most impressive is Nguyen’s ability to avoid any kind of excess – either of manipulative emotion or graphic violence – instead achieving powerful effects through implication and carefully chosen details; in one striking moment an incidental character sees Komona and calls her 'little girl' – it’s the only reference to her being a child, but the truth of it lingers. The same can be said of this most worthwhile film.
Showing as part of Take One Action Film Festival, GFT, Glasgow, Tue 2 Oct and Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Wed 3 Oct.