(director/writer: Kim Nguyen; cinematographer: Nicolas Bolduc; editor: Richard Comeau; cast: Rachel Mwanza (Komona), Alain Bastien (Rebel Lieutenant), Serge Kanyinda (Magician), Mizinga Mwinga (Great Tiger), Ralph Prosper (the Butcher), Starlette Mathata (Komona’s mom), Alex Herabo (Komona’s father), Alain Lino Mic Eli Bastien (Rebel Commander), Diane Uwamahoro (Narrator-Komona’s voice); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Pierre Even/Marie-Claude Poulin/Item 7; Tribeca Film; 2012-Canada-French and Lingala, with English subtitles)

“A powerful and unforgettable emotional viewing experience.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Canadian-based filmmaker of Vietnamese descent, director Kim Nguyen (“City of Shadows”/”Truffe”/”The Marsh”), helms a horrifying drama of savagery in modern-day Africa that’s a powerful and unforgettable emotional viewing experience. It’s one he worked on for ten years. The fascinating film was shot in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but the action takes place in an unnamed African country. It’s inspired by a real incident that took place in Burma.

Komona (Rachel Mwanza), at the age of 12, is kidnapped in her jungle village by sub-Saharan African rebels and is given an AK-47 and forced to shoot her parents (Starlette Mathata, Alex Herabo) or else watch as their heads are chopped off with a machete. The girl is then forced to join the rebel soldiers in their guerilla warfare against the government troops that’s fought in the jungle. The supreme leader of the rebels, Great Tiger (Mizinga Mwinga), deems her a sorceress because of her ability to see gray ghosts in the trees that warn her of approaching enemies, and dubs her with the title of War Witch. Komona partners in a tender relationship with the slightly older Albino soldier named Magician (Serge Kanyinda), and they manage to briefly escape. But their freedom is shortly ended and she’s forced to live as a concubine with the hateful rebel commander of her unit (Alain Lino Mic Eli Bastien) and his wife. While pregnant, Komona talks to her unborn child and tells of the suffering she’s undergone and only asks for redemption for her past actions.

Nguyen relates a shocking tale of inhumanity and violence during the time of civil war. It’s told from the POV of the abused children victims. The haunting film goes into more detail than do the news stories that report on such not so rare incidents. Our attention is fully on the children in this brilliantly achieved film, as it should be.

The nonprofessional actress Rachel Mwanza gives a truly harrowing and convincing performance that’s matched by Serge Kanyinda. Mwanza received Best Actress award at Berlin, Tribeca and Vancouver Film Festivals.

War Witch Poster