LIFF26 - War Witch - Cinema Review

'focuses on a relationship as small in nature as the participants are in size but it finds life and occasional beauty and it has enough pull to tow you along'

Imagine a very worthy film about child soliders. The film you're almost certainly imagining, to a 't', is Kim Nguyen's War Witch, an honourable, solid, attempt to make a fiction out of a travesty, which is curiously devoid of innovation or much by way of the concept of originality. Is that a problem? Perhaps to some it won't be. The topic is noble enough and the story is executed well. To others though, it is OK to want more, to desire something different from an Indie film of high moral integrity.

Following child soldiers Komona (Rachel Mwanza) and Magicien (Serge Kanyinda), Nguyen embarks on a simple love story narrative, which weaves in constantly visualised ideas of the proximity of life and death in their young lives. Komona is singled out very early on by the rebels who force her into conflict as a witch, able to see the dead and communicate with them. At times throughout the narrative her visions of the chalky deceased crop up but rarely does Nguyen manage to make them haunting. Only once are they shocking.

Our investment then in the two main characters is down to their real-world actions and relationships. A warm meeting with Magicien's uncle, The Butcher (Ralph Prosper), is left a little late, although it does still find some emotional resonance. Their relationship is played out amongst harsh battle, innocent play and the realities of living in a conflict zone. It is a relationship as small in nature as the participants are in size but it finds life and occasional beauty and it has enough pull to tow you along.

Too often though, the film seems to struggle to find Drama. Events happen but stunningly little seems to come from them. Magicien has to find a white rooster in order to marry Komona. He searches and after a little while, finds a white rooster. Komona needs to escape her platoon leader. She does, and in a shocking way, but the director seems to struggle to find tension in the act. It happens, it is unpleasant and somewhat horrifying, and then we move on.

It is certainly not that War Witch is a bad film and Nguyen certainly does not shirk the inherent responsibility in approaching such a subject. But somehow it does end up as a film feeling like it is going through several oft-repeated art house motions. It is OK to want more than that.

The 26th Leeds International Film Festival runs from 1st November to 18th November at venues around the city. Programming includes several UK premières, the popular Night Of and Day Of The Dead and a selection of competition films in the Official Selection.

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