Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Kim Nguyen's War Witch - Senselessness

Like most people in the sub-Saharan territory, Komona (Rachel Mwanza) lives in the squalor of her riverside community. At 12 years old, her village is invaded by rebel forces, headed by one called the “Great Tiger” (Mizinga Mwinga), who forcibly recruit and kidnap children, transforming them into ruthless soldiers. For Komona, she was ordered to shoot her parents with an AK-47. “Shoot them, or I will kill them with a machete, and they will suffer more,” prods the invader. She does so, thus she was taken to the rebel camp where they’re forced into manual labor.

At an encounter with government forces, Komona becomes the sole survivor. She is bestowed the superstitious tag, the “War Witch” – she who’s able to see hiding enemies in the ornery jungles. At 13, she meets their fascinating rebel leader, believed to possess magical powers much like a “spirit medium”. Komona is further “deputized” as a lucky charm; someone who could help the rebels avoid imminent death and eventually win their war. She meets Magician (Serge Kanyinda), a fellow child soldier, who constantly looks after her. One day, Magician convinces her to desert the rebel forces. They leave and fall in love. Unfortunately, the life and gruesome past of a “war witch” aren't easier abandoned. What future does Komona have?

 Two years ago, Gerard Butler appeared in a film called “Machine Gun Preacher”. The film, based on real events, centers on Sam Childers (Butler), a former biker who turned preacher and defender of African orphans kidnapped by the malevolent forces of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) led by Joseph Kony believed to have recruited between 60,000 to 100,000 child soldiers and displaced around 2 million people throughout South Africa. The LRA is a militant religious, albeit superstitious cult, operating in Northern Uganda, South Sudan (the setting of “Machine Gun Preacher”), and the Democratic Republic of Congo where “War Witch” was filmed. Komona’s story might as well be a chapter in Sam Childers’ chronicles. That being said, “War Witch” is a fitting companion piece to the less successfully realized “Machine Gun Preacher”.

Director Kim Nguyen’s “War Witch” (Rebelle) sets his narrative in an unnamed African country, giving spotlight to this virulent infliction of brutal wars in African territories. Nguyen tells his story with impressionistic strokes that's almost anti-schmaltz. Half way through the story, he unexpectedly lunges into rom-com territory: Magician proposes to Komona who would agree to marry the former if he finds her a “white rooster” as a sort-of dowry; one of the traditional pre-wedding practices in the region. Problem is, white roosters are exceedingly rare in Africa. The film swerves to a different flavor when Komona is re-captured by the rebels (after all, how can they win the war without their “witch”) who then becomes sex slave to a rebel commandant (Alain Lino Mic Eli Bastien). To exact her revenge, she finds an avocado seed, cuts it to its core, insinuates a razor blade inside, then places the seed inside her vagina. You can just imagine what transpires with a “forcible entry”, right?

The real Lord's Resistance Army
Nguyen delivers his exposition with bewitching narrative artifice, like showing Komona’s parents as ghosts – ashen faced and solitary. Their society believes, much like ours, that the dead has to be properly buried for their souls to rest. This has Komona’s ghostly parents intermittently haunting her, pleading for a proper burial. In these impressionistic expositions, we find a world that's far removed from ours, but these reflections offer glimpses into a universal truth: war is senseless. There is a need for constant reminders, but people keep forgetting anyway.

War Witch” is one of the five Oscar nominees in this year’s Best Foreign Language Film category. It is Canada's entry to the Academy. It already won several awards including Berlin's 2012 Silver Bear Best Actress Award for its 14 year old lead Rachel Mwanza who likewise won at the Tribeca Film Festival. Interestingly, Mwanza was discovered by Nguyen on the streets of Kinshasa, the capital of Congo. Just FYI, Brillante Mendoza's "Captive" joined Berlin's 2012 Main Competition - the first time a Filipino film was able to penetrate the Main Competition in 3 decades after Bernal's "Himala".

Komona meets the "Great Tiger".

Restless "ghosts"

Komona's parents ask for proper burial.
Director Kim Nguyen


Anonymous said...

Umm, sorry but I can't comment on the ricky lo post so I hope you don't mind I put it here,

The thing with LO not finding anything wrong with his performance could be a study of ignorance, but that to me is, maybe too polite. At worst, it's a study of arrogance. Here's a guy who's been in this business for decades and he feels so entitled; the way local entertainment industry works here, with all the brainless and feeble "stars", affords him that. It so common to see bullshit interview sessions here: A stupid question by a veteran player is treated as the most profound thing by any "wannabe" whose all too willing to please. Probably because they're all friends here. But that's besides the point. Jim Paredes was too gentle with that "cultural gap" comment. It's stating the obvious (though, i understand there's lot of folks that need some lecturing on it).

Someone compared this with another interview from wayback of Julia Roberts and Kris Aquino. I haven't seen that, but knowing the background of Ms. K, I can guess how things panned out. Local gigantic ego meets something foreign and massive, and local ego gets threatened to be reduced to their bare inconsequential selves. And they try to cling on to any stupid pretense they can find.

The thing I'm seeing here, (interview with some local schmuck whose in it for the "kilig" vs this anne h. gig) is the difference between interviewing a "celebrity" and an "actor." A celebrity is all game being part of the charade and superficiality standardized by the media status quo. An actor is all about the craft and will hardly have no time putting up with shitheads.


Cathy Pena said...

Hi Juan:

I'm intrigued by this Julia Roberts-Kris Aquino interview. I am not sure I've heard of it.

The original post for this Ricky Lo piece is more scathing than what's posted here, but there were several considerations. More importantly, I felt I needed to write about it because I knew no one from the industry would dare say what they really think.

Many people can't "afford" to speak against Lo's dismal performance. I know of a couple of entertainment journalists who would rather dismiss it (as though it didn't happen) just to be on the safe side. But I can't be mum about something that truly bothered me. (Yes, watching the interview bothered me.)

I've read Anne Hathaway's Q&A with "Click the City". Some of the questions were more intrusive, but Hathaway gave thorough answers. They weren't dismissive like how she replied to Lo's questions which were rather tame.

But then I'm used to occasionally reading Lo while he asked bubblegum questions like "What is your favorite color?" I could only surmise that there was a problem with Lo's performance/delivery; how he presented himself to his subject.

I am not too keen using "cultural gap" as an excuse for the debacle. It's a smokescreen, a euphemism for the interviewer's level of competence.