Rebelle (War Witch) Cinestudio-May 7th 2013

warwitchpicRebelle (War Witch)
She isn’t remarkably insightful, that is one thing I noticed. Then again, we meet her when she is merely twelve, and leave her again when she is only fourteen. We witness her exposure to and participation in some unspeakable acts, the likes of which I hope most of us never have to experience in our entire lifetime; but she is still, you see, just a child.
Perhaps that is the most (while not the only) remarkable thing about Komono, the lead character in Kim Nguyen’s “Rebelle.” The cinema has exposed us to some fascinating children since its inception, but it rarely does, at least this truthfully, is allow us to see a child in harrowing circumstances.
When we meet fascinating youths in pictures, they tend to be the smartest and the wisest. Some are children to a certain degree, but they have it all together. They see clearly the full picture more clearly the parental figure ever will. I cannot seem to recall a child in the cinema put through so much, but still remains inherently a child; with a child’s wisdom, just perhaps with a bit more experience; a bit less naiveté. But it seems to me pretty clear; the best thing she can do is to go back to her uncle, The Butcher. With one sad look of his face, it is clear to all he is infinitely wiser, and knows full better than she what may be best for her. And he hardly knows her.
We come to know her a bit better, but maybe not much more. We meet her as she is taken from her village, one of a number of children that will join the rebels. Here they will learn that their gun is their father and their child. They will learn to kill. They will begin to learn to lose themselves. Here Komona meets Magician, who stands out mostly due to a tender thoughtfulness about him, but also because he is Albino. When Magician sees that Komona has been chosen as their leader, The Great Tiger’s War Witch, due to her “ability” to see the enemies in the bushes, Magician knows it is time to go and encourages her to escape with him. There have, after all, been three other war witches before her, he notes.
Magician asks to marry her. In order to deflect this query, she uses some wisdom her father instilled upon her: she tells him he would first have to find for her a white rooster, a very rare thing. But Magician is a very rare breed himself, and he turns all corners and inevitably does discover a white rooster, which he claims for her. Look at the look on her face; it had never occurred to her to think beyond her father’s words, the protection his wisdom gave. She handles the white rooster (and yes, Magician is an albino and we know the deal with roosters—crude symbolism?) and enters adulthood at thirteen, as a woman who has outlived the advice of her parents.
Life does not become sunshine and happiness for them. She is eventually tracked down, Magician’s throat is slashed, and Komona is impregnated by her captor because he needs somebody to sleep with because the last person he slept with has died.
There is some tremendously awful imagery here, not least of which is Komona turning herself into a “poisoned rose,” but there is tremendous conviction for life. This is life, how do I live it? Komona worries about her feelings for her unborn child, as the child is certainly not making life any easier on her. “I hope I don’t grow to hate you and dump you in the river as soon as you are out of me,” she thinks to her unborn child. But it is the constant tenacity for life that gives Komona her strength, as well as the films. She never gives up, never settles. It is a powerful message that life is worth fighting for, regardless of what it might actually entail.
Cinematically, the film follows the modern-day stylistic trope of zany hand-held camera work never quite catching the action. While I am not a fan of these purposely un-composed compositions, perhaps I can agree to simply sit a few rows back in the theatre next time, because this isn’t simply Paul Greengrass drunkenness for the sake of…well, I dunno…but rather purposely serves the trajectory of our character, or perhaps of my involvement in the piece. Because either as she gets used to her new world and its fly-by-night mortality rate, and Nguyen begins to slow the camera’s shakiness as Komona becomes accustomed to it; or else Nguyen didn’t and I simply grew accustomed to the earthquake existence of our lead character. And whether the truth is the former or the latter is there really any difference? We adapt. We have to.

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