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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Harrowing, But Oftentimes Unexpectedly Hopeful, Portrait Of Children At War, September 5, 2013
This review is from: War Witch (DVD)
The idea of kids being forced into war and brutality is certainly a harrowing one. Many films, either directly of indirectly, have tackled the truth and unpleasantness of this unimaginable horror. These stories rarely qualify as entertainment but as something much more important. They make you confront humanity itself and face a world in which this is not only possible but commonplace. One of my favorite films on the topic is the little-seen "Johnny Mad Dog" from 2008 (although favorite might be the wrong word, maybe most impactful). This blunt force drama about child soldiers in Liberia is such an exhausting and disturbing experience, it has resonated with me even years afterwards. With the acclaim of Kim Ngyyen's "War Witch," I expected a similarly assaulting film. Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of graphic violence and brutality in this examination of a young girl's life. But the picture also has a gentler and more hopeful side, even as its environment has little room for tenderness and human connection. Although based in an undisclosed African nation, this film is actually from Canada and was a 2013 Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film. And at its heart, it is a strong story of survival amidst the worst conditions possible.

"War Witch" covers a few crucial years in the life of a girl named Komona. At the age of 12, Komona is abducted into the rebel army from her village with a stunning act of violence. The children are used alternately as slave labor and as killing machines, given no option other than to be ruthless warriors. Komona is haunted by past acts and has visions which bring her to the attention of a powerful warlord. Thus, she is dubbed a witch and her prophesies are trusted to keep the rebel leader victorious. At camp, she grows closer to a young man (dubbed the magician) who takes a keen interest in our heroine. And what is most unexpected in this tale of savagery is the possibility of hope and even love. As Komona's story continues, she faces many important crossroads. Can you escape a life like this one? Can you escape the memories that haunt you? If so, how? And is it even a land worth living in? There are many moments of humor and joy along the way, but happiness is never far removed from atrocity. I won't give anything away, but "War Witch" does present a different side to a familiar story.

Critical to the success of "War Witch" is actress Rachel Mwanza in the lead role. Over the course of the years, she is transformed significantly several times and is always believable. As I said, the movie is both harsh and hopeful and it's an unusual combination. Depicting such a difficult and tumultuous world can't be an easy task, but Nguyen's film gets into the soul of Komona. There are no simple resolutions to be presented. Some might even think the film lacks a concrete ending. We simply leave the story at some point along the journey. But what is presented is fresh and provocative. While "War Witch" certainly won't appeal to everyone, it is a strong and memorable excursion into a waking nightmare. But unlike some stories of this type, this one is balanced by an unlikely gentleness that works very well. KGHarris, 9/13.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 16, 2013 8:49:18 PM PST
T. Glodowski says:
Johnny Mad Dog was great and War Witch was very well made. 2 best African child soldier movies out there. Thanks for the review and giving JMD it's shine as it was never released in the states. Had to pick up the french version of JMD on blu ray. Wish War Witch would get a blu ray release. As the images should be seen in HD. Oh well, take what we can get.
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