Canada’s foreign-language Oscar hopeful artfully balances beauty and brutality in relating a child soldier’s plight.
DIRECTED BY KIM NGUYEN
Boldly blending documentary realism, dream-like lyricism, and thorny sociopolitical subject matter, Montreal writer-director Kim Nguyen establishes himself as a filmmaker of true promise with Rebelle. Winner of the Tribeca Film Festival’s top prize, and recently announced as Canada’s submission for 2013′s best foreign-language Oscar, Nguyen’s fourth feature is the powerful confessional of a child solider named Komona, played with compelling naturalism by Congolese newcomer Rachel Mwanza.
Rebelle‘s bracing opening scenes see Mwanza’s 12-year-old narrator abducted from her village and subjected to the brutal initiation rites of a rebel army, who at first view her as little more than fodder for the front lines. But when she demonstrates a seemingly supernatural knack for emerging from firefights unscathed, she’s bestowed with the talismanic title of “War Witch,” and drafted into the personal protective service of the rebel leader. She also begins to forge a bond with a fellow soldier dubbed Magicien (Serge Kanyinda), who warns that the privileges of her new position are precarious: she’ll pay with her life should her luck falter.
In relating Komona’s plight, Nguyen, too, faces a tricky task: an unyielding representation of her suffering risks alienating audiences, but a more palatable, aestheticized depiction is also ethically problematic. By and large, he strikes an effective balance. Even in Rebelle‘s idyllic central interlude and cautiously hopeful finale, Nguyen ensures that the all-too-credible horrors that haunt his protagonist are never far from our thoughts.