Old 01-16-2013, 11:16 PM

Originally published on my Grapevine.


Kim Nguyen’s WAR WITCH marks the third example in a row of a filmmaker from Quebec attending one of the biggest soirees in film industry. When the Academy Awards were announced, everyone who’s in-the-know thought “OK, here we go; Amour…Intouchables…” but once the announcement came and France’s selected box-office juggernaut INTOUCHABLES was shockingly missing from the five nominees, the net started to grumble and The Grapevine was ecstatic. No Holy Motors, no Intouchables. Revenge is a dish best served with a cold, hard baguette to the face.

While Austria’s AMOUR, Denmark’s A ROYAL AFFAIR, Chile’s NO and Norway’s KON-TIKI were buzzing around major festivals and weren’t surprising too many prognosticators, it was Canada’s WAR WITCH that pushed out their French-speaking rivals out of competition. Or so my gut tells me. Living in French-speaking Canada, I’m lucky enough to see these gems early and I caught War Witch last November. What makes the film extra sweet for getting a nomination, is that Mr. Nguyen is an alumnus of the very same University I attended. So, my uni is going to be representin’ at the Academy Awards!

For lack of a better term, and because it so perfectly embodies the experience as the tight hug it is, War Witch is bewitching. Resting heavy on the shoulders of its central protagonist, Komona, the film is the story which she narrates to her unborn child, a story that’s not stingy when it comes to messages about cruelty, love, endurance and acceptance. Before a single word is uttered, the film had me at its first frame. The composition of the shots and the cinematography by Nicholas Bolduc make you feel like the film can be a silent pontification on African village life. You’re either flipping through pages of National Geographic, or looking at some Chris Marker-inspired documentarian’s work. These comparisons came easy to me because through-out its whole 90 minute running time, War Witch captivates you with its artful look.

There’s a couple of more strengths to this simple story that I’m sure helped the voters forget all about a certain French film. The performance by Rachel Mwanza, who makes Quvezahne Wallis look like a 2 yearRachel Mwanza in War Witch old, is reserved with power, bubbling with a passive-aggressive emotion that’s too fearful of exposing itself. From a non-actor, it’s remarkable and guess what? She already received two awards for it. A Silver Bear at the Berlinale, and the Best Actress honors at Tribeca. Not too shabby and very much deserved.

Standing firm and proud next to the two pillars above is the use of music. A mixtape of African folk and pop, Nguyen very cleverly releases the tension that’s felt for the bigger portion of the time on screen by infusing the silences with the vibrant sounds of African pop. In fact, it’s so infectious that I’m listening to some of it right now, as I write this, and I’m so close to getting up and gettin’ jiggy with the beats. Listen to this right now and tell me you don’t feel it (by that I mean, comment below). You might find it strange that a story about kidnapped children who are forced into becoming rebels and murdering loved ones can have such an upbeat soundtrack, but it works wonders because it reminds you that the gross impoverishment and injustice on this continent is fought with a loud heartbeat which connects its people.

As much as the Academy can befuddle the reasonable mind when it comes to snubbing obvious choices for Direction or nominating a performance that’s more directed than skilled, one thing that it keeps doing right year in and year out is bringing excellent foreign films into the light of fame. War Witch is one of those. Granting my bias that’s there due to the country and the university of the director’s origins, the film has more than enough on its own to show you why it deserves to stand next to Amour, Kon-Tiki and the rest of them. The story might not be profound and the character’s might not be stretching for development but with its local infusion of music, supernatural folklore, marriage and white roosters, bold nonprofessional performances and gorgeous cinematography, War Witch is a must for any enthusiast of world culture and cinema.

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canada , foreign film , oscars , rebelle , war witch

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