Witch: a woman claiming or popularly believed to possess magical powers and practice sorcery. Powerful, haunting and compelling, as is magic, War Witch beautifully captures a story about an African teenager trying to find a way to live and to love her unborn child while the taste of abhorrent crimes is still fresh and the gaping hole of loss is constantly stretching.
Komona, kidnapped from her village at the age of twelve by a rebel army and is forced to serve as a child soldier. After remarkably coming out of an attack unscathed she is deemed a war witch, and the leader’s lucky charm. A fellow solider, an albino boy called Magicien (the magician), convinces her to run away with him. The war witch and the magician at the end of the day are just two teenagers in love, and for a brief time simplicity and happiness enter their lives.
But, soon the young girl is left with nothing but the spirits of those she killed, the horrific stories she shares with the life growing inside of her and prayers for the ability to love her child.
It was not surprising to learn that the young woman who portrays Komona, Rachel Mwanza, is a nonprofessional actress, because her performance does not feel like one, like anything that could be taught or rehearsed. Mwanza’s work is organic, giving us a Komona that is unprocessed, but ripe. She navigates all of Komona’s emotional states with honesty, delving into bottomless grief of a lost girl, the killer instincts of a soldier and the innocence of a teenager experiencing love for the first time. Mwanza’s depiction of Komona’s evolution is truly gripping.
Award-winning director Kim Nguyen is create a world that feels at times apocalyptic, at times mystical but always staying true to reality. War Witch, featured in the World Narrative Competition at the Tribeca Film Festival this year, is a riveting demonstration of how a story (inspired by true events) based on conflict can be told without politicizing it, but focusing on a life full of meaning.