By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Magic realism is one of my favorite storytelling techniques, and it’s been on the upswing lately in the world of film, most strikingly in Beasts of the Southern Wild. It’s been particularly appreciated by Oscar’s Best Foreign Language Film category, with films like Peru’s gorgeous, spare The Milk of Sorrow and Greece’s bizarre, captivating Dogtooth receiving nominations in recent years. Joining them now is Canadian-produced Congo tale War Witch.
Komona is captured at 12 years old by rebel guerilla fighters, who force her to kill her parents, hook her on drugs, and start her on the rewarding career path of a child soldier. In her first firefight, she discovers a useful new talent, the ability to talk to dead people, who warn her of danger.
And struggle to come to terms with the fact that there’ll be no Apocalypto 2
The magic realist touches like the dead people and the quest for a white rooster add a whole level of intrigue and poignancy to a tale that would be compelling in its own right. I, at least, have never seen a film told from the perspective of a child soldier, and the story told here is an engrossing and sad one, leavened with just enough hope to be bearable.
Rachel Mwanza, who plays Komona, is a first-time actress that you’d never guess was one. She makes us believe in and feel for her character almost effortlessly, and is the headline of a cast of mostly inexperienced actors and actresses that all hold their own.
Director Kim Nguyen does a bravura job with the budget and talent at his disposal, melding beautiful camerawork with excellent sound design and mixing, particularly in the way the soundtrack blends silence, environmental sounds like insects, and its sparse but effective music. The occasional firefights are also impressive, boasting a crackling intensity many Hollywood directors can’t pull off with many times his budget.
No amount of money will help Olivier Megatonofsuck to accomplish this
With all of the style and visual ideas on display, it would have been nice if the filmmakers had taken similar risks with their storytelling. The setting and subject are unique, but the story itself moves along conventionally and predictably, sapping some of its strength.
While not mindblowing, this is a very well-made, very affecting film set in a world most of us know nothing about.
Take a Drink: every time Komona addresses her unborn child
Take a Drink: whenever a ghost shows up
Do a Shot: whenever someone tries to explain their magic