Movie Review: “Rebelle” (War Witch) – Powerful Magic

Written by Emily McWilliams March 10, 2013

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Canadian filmmaker Kim Nguyen’s award-winning feature “Rebelle” (War Witch) displays a visceral approach to storytelling.  The film’s young protagonist, Komona (portrayed by a suburb Rachel Mwanza), tells her unborn child and the film’s audience her story; a story that echoes countless true accounts from the memories of former child soldiers.   In Komona’s short life she has experienced unfathomable acts of violence and grief.  Kidnapped by rebel forces from her village at the age of 12, she was recruited into the army where a crude AK-47 assault rifle replaced her parents.  Now at the age of 14, she is preparing to become a mother, but she admits to her growing child that after the horrors she has seen, she doubts her ability to love again.

Love and War

“Rebelle’s” English title, “War Witch” alludes to the film’s elements of magic, and despite the film’s raw and unflinching approach to the subject matter, Nguyen’s film is also highly captivating and imaginative.  During her time in the army, and with the aid of “magic milk”, Komona has premonitions that save her life during battle.  She gains the role as the army’s witch, and befriends another shaman, the albino Magicien.  The scenes of affection between Komona and Magicien shift the audience’s attention away from the shocking violence to a story of love during wartime.  It is the precise placement of these moments that give “Rebelle” an emotional dimension connected to the human experience that is not tainted by politics.

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Through the eyes of a child

Nguyen’s strength as a storyteller lies in his ability to capture the perspective of a child.  For a highly political and often exploited subject matter, the film is stripped of any geographical or political signifiers.  Instead, it channels Komona’s emotions and experiences through the naïve and innocent gaze of a child, rendering the violence even more brutal and disorienting.  For audience members who may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable addressing issues in Africa, Nguyen manages to not alienate spectators through his natural and human filmmaking style that focuses on strong performances and universal aspects of living.

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“Rebelle’s” internationally garnered attention including awards at The Berlin Film Festival and an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film shows that Canadian filmmakers have a definite presence and voice in the film community.  “Rebelle” succeeds through it’s seamless blurring of fantasy and reality, creating two realms that are nearly impossible to distinguish, as it explores a world outside our geographical and emotional boundaries.

My Rating: 8.5/10

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