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TIFF Capsule Review: 'War Witch'

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire September 8, 2012 at 3:10AM

Canadian director Kim Nguyen's intense portrait of a young African woman Komona (Rachel Mwanza, who won an acting prize for her performance at the Berlin International Film Festival) kidnapped from her village and forced to become a child soldier is both light on details and rich with them. Her country of origin never revealed, Komona endures a series of hardships that unquestionably play off Western perceptions of African strife. At the same time, as Komona takes on the role of a keen survivalist, escaping forced marriage to a gangleader and finding her way back home, "War Witch" develops into a thoroughly suspenseful tale that advances its themes instead of simplifying them. When Komona sees the ghosts of her murderers relatives, it's not a supernatural twist but rather Nguyen's effective manifestation of the fears closing in on his vulnerable protagonist. Rife with tribal sights and sounds, "War Witch" is a paean to the cultural nuances even though it never delves into specifics, capitalizing on the spiritual elegance of African rituals as a means of providing Komona's journey with an expressionistic foundation. By emphasizing her environment, "War Witch" universalizes her plight. Criticwire grade: A- [Eric Kohn]
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Canadian director Kim Nguyen's intense portrait of a young African woman Komona (Rachel Mwanza, who won an acting prize for her performance at the Berlin International Film Festival) kidnapped from her village and forced to become a child soldier is both light on details and rich with them. Her country of origin never revealed, Komona endures a series of hardships that unquestionably play off Western perceptions of African strife. At the same time, as Komona takes on the role of a keen survivalist, escaping forced marriage to a gangleader and finding her way back home, "War Witch" develops into a thoroughly suspenseful tale that advances its themes instead of simplifying them. When Komona sees the ghosts of her murderers relatives, it's not a supernatural twist but rather Nguyen's effective manifestation of the fears closing in on his vulnerable protagonist. Rife with tribal sights and sounds, "War Witch" is a paean to the cultural nuances even though it never delves into specifics, capitalizing on the spiritual elegance of African rituals as a means of providing Komona's journey with an expressionistic foundation. By emphasizing her environment, "War Witch" universalizes her plight. Criticwire grade: A- [Eric Kohn]
 

This article is related to: Reviews, War Witch (Rebelle), Toronto International Film Festival