moviereview colin fraser film movie australia review critic flicks

Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Academy Awards, the Canadian film Rebelle or War Witch, directed by Kim Nguyen (La Marais / Truffe), was definitely a strong contender in a tough category. It was ten years in the making after Nguyen was inspired by an article about a couple of chain-smoking 10-year-old twins who were sacred figures for a rebel group in Africa. This is story-telling at its grimmest level and it’s even more shocking when you know that it is based on reality - albeit almost surreal, it represents the outrageous truth for many African children.

Komona (Rachel Mwanza, who was discovered in the streets) is a 12-year-old living in a village with her family somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. One day rebels turn up to pillage the place and Komona is taken captive, having first been subjected to a horrifying ordeal. From then on she is trained by the rebel lieutenant (Alain Bastien) to become a warrior. There are many scenes that are utterly distressing; it’s hard to imagine how this could be happening to a human being, never mind a child.

After a battle waged against the government’s army, Komona is the only survivor and thus declared a sorceress and brought before the Great Tiger (Mizinga Mwinga), the main rebel leader. During this time she is befriended by a young fighter called Magician (Serge Kanyinda); it is the first time she receives any kind of affection and, amidst the mayhem, she experiences a brief moment of happiness. She falls pregnant and decides to provide a future for her child by undertaking a spiritual journey back to her birthplace… but getting away from the Great Tiger is not going to be easy. She is his prized ‘war witch’.

Rebelle is a riveting piece of film-making headed by a cast who leave you in no doubt about the authenticity of the story. You wonder if, indeed, these young actors are actually acting out scenes from their lives. The locations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are as harsh as the story-line, and the performances, especially Rachel Mwanza’s and Serge Kanyinda’s, are proof that raw talent can often surpass years of training - Mwanza was the winner of the Best Actress award at both the Berlin and Tribeca Film Festivals last year.

Nguyen’s script is ably augmented by a haunting soundtrack and impressive cinematography. It is also interesting to note that he shot the film in sequence and the actors were not allowed to read their scripts before the daily shoot; therefore they never knew what was going to happen to their characters. The story they tell evokes the famous line uttered by Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) in Apocalypse Now. I recommend you see Rebelle, if only to remind yourself that we live in a very cruel world, where some children are robbed of the innocence of childhood in unimaginable circumstances. “The horror” indeed. It is only in very limited release around Australia so make sure you catch it if you can.


Previewed at Hoyts Studio 12, The Entertainment Centre, Moore Park, Thursday 14th February, 2013
moviereview colin fraser film movie australia review critic flicks


Rachel Mwanza
Serge Kanyinda
Alain Bastien
Mizinga Mwinga

Kim Nguyen

Kim Nguyen



90 minutes

March 14, 2013
Lorem ipsum dolor sit
War Witch (2012) on IMDb
Lorem ipsum dolor sit
Stacks Image 56