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Film review: ‘War Witch’

WarWitch-1-600Komona's (Rachel Mwanza) life was irreversibly altered at the tender age of 12 when rebel forces led by the Great Tiger (Mizinga Mwinga) rampaged through her tiny African village. The unfortunate girl was forced at gunpoint to kill her own parents (Starlette Mathata and Alex Herabo) before being abducted and brainwashed into joining the cause.

Deep in the jungle, she was befriended by other kids orphaned by the conflict before being trained to use a weapon against government soldiers. However, more valuable than marksmanship, Komona developed an uncanny knack for sensing enemy positions, a skill which proved handy during encounters with deadly snipers and machine gun nests.

warwitch-Rachel Mwanza-400This supernatural ability came to the attention of her superiors, and by the time she turned 13, the so-called "War Witch" was appointed a personal advisor of General Tiger. In that capacity, Komona also had to work closely with Magician (Serge Kanyinda), an albino boy with extra sensory perception.

It's been said that there are no atheists in foxholes. Apparently there aren't any celibates in foxholes either. For, it's not long before the two seers fall madly in love. Magician proposes, they go AWOL, and Komona ends up pregnant by her 14th birthday.

Thus unfolds "War Witch," a haunting drama chronicling an adolescent's coming-of-age under the most trying of circumstances. Written and directed by Canadian Kim Nguyen, who shot on location in the Congo, the moving character study was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Film category.

The picture is cleverly constructed as a series of vivid flashbacks narrated by Komona directly addressing the unborn baby growing in her belly. While the plucky protagonist easily earns our admiration for maintaining her sanity in the midst of the madness, there is still something slightly unsettling about a production so matter-of-fact about the endless atrocities providing the backdrop for such a touching front story.

warwitch poster-400Twenty-first Century Africa presented as a godforsaken wasteland conjuring up primitive images reminiscent of the ghoulish dystopia chronicled by Conrad in Heart of Darkness.

Very Good (3 stars)

Unrated

In French and Lingala with subtitles

Running time: 90 minutes

Distributor: TriBeCa Film

(To see a trailer for War Witch, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKXEh_kfPCY)

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