Rebelle (War Witch) 2012
Montreal director Kim Nguyen spent 10 years pulling together the financing and talent to complete the Oscar-nominated Rebelle, a moving portrait about a young girl abducted by a rebel army in an unnamed African country and forced to become a child soldier. The plot is centred on Komona relaying her tragic story on to her own child at some later date in a spare, but effective voiceover.
Films like Rebelle are often as difficult to write about as they are to watch. Capturing the tone and balance of the film in a review is tricky, because the film is too. The subject matter is undeniably grim, despite Nyuyen’s efforts to convey the violence by implication and atmosphere rather than directly. As a result, Rebelle is less gory and graphic than the subject matter might suggest, but Nyugen isn’t pulling any punches either. It is about a young girl’s harsh and tragic existence and the formidable courage and strength she brings to bear on her circumstance to survive and find a way through. While moments of levity are few and far between, they do exist. The relationship between Komona and Magicien, a fellow child soldier blossoms into a short-lived love affair providing them (and by extension, us) a temporary respite from the ravages of civil war. It doesn’t last of course, but Komona finds another lifeline in her unborn child which provides her hope and a continued path forward.
It would be remiss to not mention the outstanding performance of Rachel Mwanza as Komona. She is simply astonishing and it would be hard to imagine Rebelle working without her. Mwanza commands every scene and brings a vivid authenticity to the proceedings. The rest of the mostly non-professional cast is uniformly excellent as well.
A tough, but worthy watch… and one that attaching a “star” rating proved nearly pointless.