Monday, April 29, 2013

War Witch (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

War Witch

Canadian director Kim Nguyen's "War Witch" is a stirring character study as disturbing as it is earthy in its depiction of an entire universe brimming with life and death.

Komona (Rachel Mwanza) is a twelve year old in the Congo. Abruptly she is abducted, presented with a gun and told to shoot her parents or else they will be hacked by a machete. Horribly with no choice, Komona's parents tell her to shoot and she fires.

She is taken by a rebel general known as The Great Tiger and trained as a child  soldier. There she witnesses a supernatural ritual and given a kind of peyote milk from a tree. Seemingly by chance, Komona gains favor with the very intimidating adults and achieves status as a witch. Facing multiple soldiers she somehow always emerges unscathed. Under the influence of the milk, Komona sees the ghosts of her parents and specters from the government, which are depicted as eerie zombie-white statues with eyes filled with gray sky.

Although the film owes a debt to Terrence Malick, its picaresque movement is unique and it is its own story. While it does have its share of jolting violence and does not hold back, it has moments of beauty: the ghosts unwinding themselves from the tree branches and groups of men in a circle at night while their guns make impromptu Roman Candles as if to re-create their own Lord of the Flies drama. Invariably Komona is the centerpiece as a twelve year old Kali. She is made a monster killer under the soldier's eyes but to us watching the film, she is an all too young girl whose psyche is battered and beaten.

For a while Komona escapes and has the good fortune to align herself with a laconic and mystical boy known as Magician (Serge Kanyinda). The two intend to marry, assuming they find a white rooster. Perhaps they will forget the civil war or become a Bonnie & Clyde in efforts of self preservation.Time will tell.

At one point when Komona is pregnant and sick in the hot sun, she is a film noir  fatale of sorts, her chances of breath becoming slimmer by the instant. The roads themselves narrow with grit and cars pass with indifference as if to echo the country road anxieties in Hitchcock's "North By Northwest"

"War Witch" most closely resembles novels such as "The Painted Bird" however in its depiction of a childhood under the spell of supernaturalism and war. In both cases, it is sheer will coupled by luck (which arrives with an almost magical sense of faith) that make for the youngsters' survival.

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