By Anna Bielak | December 19, 2012
Director: Kim Nguyen
Writer: Kim Nguyen
Starring: Rachel Mwanza, Alain Lino Mic Eli Bastien, Serge Kanyinda, Mizinga Mwinga, Ralph Prosper, Jean Kabuya, Diane Uwamahoro
Someone once said that we may spin tales, but we don’t create stories — they create us. That is true for Kim Nguyen’s War Witch, in which Komona’s (Rachel Mwanza) identity is shaped by the war-story she unveils. The fourteen-year old heroine casts her mind back towards the past, recalling herself and someone she does not know anymore. Komona wants her unborn child to understand why, in a moment of weakness, she may hate rather than love him. War Witch is a surreal road movie and coming-of-age story about the bitter end of childhood. If we analyze its layers and look at it from different points of view, Nguyen’s film may turn into a peculiar hybrid combining Beasts of the Southern Wild‘s surreal poetics and the brutal naturalism of Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire’s Johnny Mad Dog (2008).
Nguyen tells a story about a rebellion in Congo; the brutal massacres of civilians and the dragging of children into the revolutionary ranks. Nguyen does not try to be objective in any way; the story has its own rhythm and Komona is the one who imparts a sense of gravity to it. The army has attacked her village. Almost all its citizens are killed and Komona is forced to shoot her parents. However, Komona has a wide range of choices, doesn’t she? She can pull the trigger or watch them die by machetes. While Komona hesitates, Nguyen arrives at a unique decision that leads War Witch to fill viewers with an unprecedented kind of fear. Showing neither bloodstained bodies nor faces winced of post-mortal pain, cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc focuses his lens on a linen wall riddled with holes and the red stains that soak it through. Komona looks at them while in a trance. This feeling remains… The soldiers will take her; but we will stay in that world, stuck far from the reality and able to see beyond it all.
Komona is taken to the jungle, forced to fight and to take drugs regularly; yet, nothing helps her forget the slaughter. “I’m crying inside, so nobody could see,” she says. Only horrid visions enter the reality. Ghosts haunt her world; she needs to face them and cope. Nguyen plays with emotions in one of the best thrillers ever made; leading viewers to the story’s essence, but brilliantly fueling the tension. Komona, who lives in a trance-like life, is vaunted a witch and handed over to the commander in chief, Grand Tigre Royal’s (Mizinga Mwinga) hands. Will her sudden feelings for the Magician (Serge Kanyinda) have any meaning to the others and her new owner? Could she — the war witch — leave her position? Is an African ritual, which offers a transgressive experience, considered to be a good tool for coming out of mourning?
Within Komona’s world, Nguyen congregates ways that may lead to her mythical re-birth. His reality is soaked with surrealism and thanks to Nguyen’s artistic approach, the brutal war in Congo is given a universal dimension. Due to a peculiar schizophrenia, Komona’s world is as delaminated as plywood may be; however, we are able to see to what extent war may infect the human soul and mind. Children hide away in their inner worlds — everybody knows that. Seldom do we get a chance to commune with a story in which children’s fantasies and mature decisions live in such a strong and authentic symbiotic relation as they do in War Witch.