War Witch

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“Definitely not Sabrina.”

This was originally titled Rebelle, perhaps a slightly better title than something that sounds as if it comes from a Norwegian death-metal album. Perhaps the change was to avoid confusion? A quick Google Images search for the original name shows you that was also the title for Brave in some territories. Safe to say, this is nothing like that. It’s the worthy, rather than anything else, tale of a young girl, Komona (Mwanza), who is kidnapped from her African village by anti-government forces at the age of 12, and forced to join their army. Her apparent supernatural ability to “see” government forces brings her to the attention of their leader, Great Tiger (Mwinga), who appoints her as his “war witch.” But on discovering the fate of the previous three appointees – a clue, they didn’t retire with full pensions – she deserts, along with an albino colleague, Magicien (Kanyinda). Their happiness is short-lived, as their commanding officer (Bastien) recaptures Komona and turns her into his concubine, right up until a nasty trick involving a piece of fruit and a razor-blade.warwitch

A few things stand out. Firstly, the casual approach to everyday violence, which seems to numb all those who perpetrate it, including Komona. But it can still be chilling, most notably Komona’s understated description of her uncle: “Every time he would cut the meat with his machete, it would remind him of what happened to his family… I will not tell you what happened to his family. Because, if I do, you won’t listen anymore.” Yikes. There’s also the way in which the supernatural permeates things, and no-one seems too bothered. As well as the whole “war witch” thing, which is as bizarre as Ronald Reagan using an astrologer, Komona sees the ghosts of her dead parents, and one of the reasons for deserting is so she can give them the proper burial and send them to rest. Magicien makes and carries “grigri”, talismans designed to protect him, and when he seeks a white rooster to offer as a dowry, the price of information on where to find it is one such amulet. Magic, it appears, is everywhere. As, apparently are albinos: I think there are more shown in this film than in every other movie I’ve ever seen, combined.

It’s very restrained on just about every level. In some ways that works, since it avoid the obvious histrionics you expect from the subject matter. But I have to say, I found Mwanza’s performance – or, rather, her non-performance – extremely flat and distancing. It’s hard to care about all the death on display, when it seems the central character is unbothered by it. Nguyen doesn’t explain some significant aspects either, such as the “coltan” which Great Tiger has his forces mine, is short for “columbite–tantalite”, an important ore used in electronics. Demand for this in the West is among the causes of conflict in the region. Would have been nice to find this out from the film, rather than Wikipedia. My over-riding reaction to the film was one of relief that I don’t live there, mixed with an appreciation for the the things we take for granted, like running water and a lack of roaming militia groups. This is a glimpse into another world; it’s just not one I have much interest in visiting again.

Dir: Kim Nguyen
Star: Rachel Mwanza, Serge Kanyinda, Alain Lino Mic Eli Bastien, Mizinga Mwinga

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