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Rebelle/War Witch

Director: Kim Nguyen

Country: Canada
Orig. Work Title Rebelle
Year: 2012
Language: French, English, Lingala
Runtime: 90 minutes
Rating: 14A
Producer: Pierre Even, Marie-Claude Poulin
Production Co.: Item7, Studio Shen
Principal Cast: Rachel Mwanza, Alain Bastien, Serge Kanyinda, Mizinga Mwinga, Ralph Prosper
Screenplay: Kim Nguyen
Cinematographer: Nicolas Bolduc
Editor: Richard Comeau
Sound: Martin Pinsonnault, Bernard Gariépy-Strobl, Claude La Haye
Prod. Designer: Emmanuel Fréchette
Canadian Dist.: Mongrel Media
U.S. Distributor: Tribeca Film
Int. Sales Agent: Films Distribution

Winner of the Best Actress prize at the Berlin Film Festival, Rebelle is an extraordinary portrait of survival.  Director Kim Nguyen spent ten years bringing this story to the screen, basing his script on the stories of actual child soldiers and shooting entirely on location in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We are introduced to fourteen-year-old Komona (Rachel Mwanza) as she recounts the past two years of her life to her unborn child. Abducted by a rebel army that invades her small, ramshackle village, Komona is forced to commit an unthinkable act — shooting her own parents — before being dragged off into the jungle. Over the next several months, she is inducted into the brutal lifestyle of the child soldier: she is beaten repeatedly, taught to fire an AK-47, and forced to dig for coltan, a mineral used in the production of electronic devices, the sale of which helps fund the rebel insurgency.

One day, after drinking "magic milk," Komona has a vision of her parents, who warn her of danger ahead. Heeding the apparitions' advice, she is the only person to escape unscathed from a ferocious firefight. Impressed by her premonitory powers, the warlord Great Tiger bestows Komona with the title of "War Witch” which earns her both privileges in the camp and the threat of harsh punishment if her "powers" fail. When Komona befriends fellow soldier Magicien (Serge Kanyinda), she seems to have found an escape. The two soon run away together and eventually fall in love, but the war is never far away, and their romantic idyll is cut short when they are recaptured by the rebels. Still haunted by the ghosts of her parents and returned to the tyranny of her former life, Komona soon becomes pregnant and struggles to find a ray of hope in her desperate situation.

This is undeniably grim material, but Nguyen leavens it with delicacy and tact, conveying violence by implication and atmosphere rather than through direct depiction. The performances from the mostly nonprofessional cast are vivid and authentic, particularly the extraordinary Mwanza's portrayal of Komona. Heartfelt and helplessly moving, Rebelle guides us through the harsh world of a young girl whose circumstances are tragic, yet whose story is one of formidable courage and unquenchable hope.

The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2013; voted on to Canada’s Top Ten -- and received a phenomenal ten Canadian Screen Awards (the revamped Genies), including Best Film; Best Director; Best Screenplay; Best Cinematography (Nicolas Bolduc); Best Actress (Mwanza) and Best Supporting Actor (Kanyinda). When Nguyen accepted his Best Director prize, he urged people to make ethical investments.

Agata Smoluch Del Sorbo