War Witch (2012) (Not Rated)
It was assured and not even doubted that when last year's foreign language Oscar category came into question—everybody knew what was going to win. "Amour" had snagged the Palme d'Or and garnered a coveted Best Picture category nomination. With nods to the screenplay, director, and lead actress...it was easy to forget the rest of the playing field.
Yet when you overlook the other nominees and get sidetracked with star power and awards; you miss a hidden gem like "War Witch".
The movie begins as Komona (Rachel Mwanza) is talking to her unborn child. She tells the baby that she will narrate her story...to see if her child can forgive her for what she's done.
"War Witch" is a blistering movie about horrible circumstances and cold perseverance. When Komona was twelve years old, she was kidnapped by rebel forces who hailed the Great Tiger as their leader. As they take the children of Komona's village, they push a gun into her hands and direct her to kill her parents...which she does. It was either take her parents' life by her hand, or watch them get hacked apart by one of the rebels' machetes.
Then she is taken onto a boat and brought deep into the jungle.
The rebels are led by superstition, everything they do has some magical overtone. They consult the spirits to decide which way to travel, and most every one of them has a token of some kind to ward off death.
Komona learns to not show her emotions, she holds her head high and blends in with the rebellion. They train her in their ways and soon she is given a gun and taken on missions.
But there's something different about Komona—she can see ghosts. The dead linger in her vision, painted white and morose, these apparitions warn her of the government army hiding in the bushes.
This is a great talent for the rebellion, so Komona is rewarded by meeting the Great Tiger. He informs her that she will be his personal war witch.
The only other character of drastic importance is a mysterious boy, who is just known as Magician. He is just as superstitious as the rest of the people...but he is courageous and logical—which is something that most of these men lack.
For having somewhat supernatural powers, Komona is the least superstitious of the bunch. Her tight-lipped way makes her the solid core of the movie.
While not as graphic as one might assume, "War Witch" delivers quite a punch just on a human level. It's impossible to see what Komona goes through without feeling a little something for her.
Much of the film's success lies with the camera work. It looks like a typical hipster movie, which is great because they all looks fabulous.
But with "War Witch" director Kim Nguyen takes it a step farther. The film is stifling because of how it looks and sounds. It's even hard to breathe at times.
Even though the silence of the film is the power of it, the youth of the characters is also a key part of the film's success. I found that it was impossible to try to judge the age of the protagonists. It's their youth that makes "War Witch" all the more effective—Komona has the rest of her life to grow old, yet she is struck with forced maturity at age thirteen.
While it could be considered a story of survival, "War Witch" is better seen as a journey through life. It's a fable and it's a fairytale, though the most original and heartbreaking that I've seen.
Nguyen handles the movie so smoothly and with such composure that it's easy to loose yourself in it.
It's a gorgeous movie with a talented, if unrecognized, cast.
Score: 4 out of 4 stars
Posted by Micah Jones