Starring Rachel Mwanza. Written and directed by Kim Nguyen. STC. 90 min. Opens Sept. 21 at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
This thoughtful and frequently powerful drama by French-Canadian director Kim Nguyen presents the story of an African child soldier in terms that are alternately stark and mystical. Abducted as a 12-year-old from her village in an unspecified Sub-Saharan country, Komona (an excellent Rachel Mwanza) suffers a brutal indoctrination by rebel fighters—indeed, being forced to murder her own parents is the first step in a harrowing process of dehumanization.
Komona is well on her way to becoming as barbaric and unfeeling as the other fighters until she is accorded a special status by their leader (Mizinga Mwinga), who believes she is a “war witch” with supernatural powers. Though this does not mean she is spared the horrors that surround her, she does find some solace in her friendship with Magicien (Serge Kanyinda), a young albino boy and fellow abductee.
The winner of major prizes at Berlin and Tribeca, Rebelle is already one of the year’s most acclaimed Canadian films. But while it’s certainly impressive for its vivid use of its locations (Nguyen shot his film in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and the strong performances by the largely non-professional cast, the film feels somewhat compromised by its inherent clash of sensibilities. However entrancing they may be, the surrealistic flourishes drain some of the force from Rebelle’s otherwise naturalistic and unflinching take on the experiences of children like Komona. Nevertheless, the film’s boldest scenes have all the power and urgency that the subject demands.