War Witch | Movie review
The Foreign Language Oscar nominee is well-intentioned but obvious.
In an unnamed African country, Komona (Rachel Mwanza) is kidnapped by bloodthirsty rebels who force her to shoot her parents point-blank. Thus begins Canadian director Kim Nguyen’s Foreign Language Oscar nominee War Witch, which proves for the ill-informed that being an African child soldier is no fun at all. It often does so in extremely literal-minded ways. Komona explains in voiceover—to her unborn child, no less—that she had to work hard, because “if I didn’t, they would beat me with a stick.” Cut to: Komona being beaten with a stick.
The first and third acts are predictable misery. In between comes an unexpectedly goofy, surprising diversion, as Komona and the albino “Magician” (Serge Kanyinda) flee and start over. Magician wants to marry Komona, yet she follows her father’s advice, saying he must first find an impossibly rare white rooster. But the lighthearted road trip only allows the movie to double down on the horrors that follow. Despite Komona’s visions of ghosts in battle-scarred forests, War Witch steers clear of visual poetry or invention, the better to seem socially responsible. Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire’s ethically questionable Johnny Mad Dog—a similarly themed, relentlessly aestheticized drama from 2008, with former child soldiers re-enacting their pasts in Liberia—at least had the courage to risk callousness for form’s sake. War Witch is simply a well-intentioned issues film about the obvious. (Available on VOD Tue 26.)