Understandably grim, the reason this ― Canada's submission for Best Foreign Film at the 2012 Oscars ― works so well despite its implicit pretence is an overall, grounded non-exploitive nature and an avoidance of pedantic preaching.
Told in part through voiceover, with Komona telling her unborn child her experiences as a rebel soldier, this well-paced, linear drama breaks up the story into three title cards, denoting our protagonist's age from 12 to 14.
Initially trained to fire a gun at government military, she's identified as a "war witch" by her ruthless superior, Grand Tigre (Mzinga Mwinga), something that ultimately protects her from death and the routine beatings to which she had grown accustomed.
But, as fellow child soldier Magicien (Serge Kanyinda), an albino, points out: she's only safe as long as her "witchy" intuitions about soldier locations prove accurate. The rest of this tragic story unfolds with them fleeing optimistically, hoping to escape from the pattern of violence surrounding them.
Since Nguyen's vision, while non-exploitive, is grounded very much in reality, save Komona's ghostly visions of the endless dead bodies piling up around her (primarily her parents), we're all too aware that this escape isn't likely possible. Even if they escape the legion of soldiers, they still have their experiences and memories to toil with for the rest of their lives.
With a mostly handheld, yet surprisingly fluid and dreamlike aesthetic that manages to compensate for some obvious performer limitations, Nguyen has managed to mask the obvious trendy, socially conscious political motivators for a text such as this, capturing the mixture of childhood and rapid, forced maturity of someone in an unthinkable situation. (Mongrel Media)
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