Kim Nguyen

BY Robert BellPublished Jan 4, 2013

Though known mostly for helming oblique sci-fi allegories like Truffe and The Marsh, Quebecois director Kim Nguyen has a loose, naturalistic, subdued style that serves an ostensible war film well. From the opening scene of Rebelle, where a small, unnamed African village is thrown into chaos when a rebel army invades and slaughters almost everyone, his tone and style are grounded by unfortunate events that are all too real. Twelve-year-old Komona (Rachel Mwanza) is one of the few spared, physically speaking, though her psychological makeup is forever scarred by the forced assassination of her parents, at her hands, by rebel insurgents. In this scene, Nguyen focuses on her emotional reaction — tears streaming down her face — while pointing a gun at her parents, knowing that adhering to rebel instructions and shooting them is the only way to survive. We only hear the gunshots and see the bloodstains behind where they stood, thus acknowledging the horror of it all without undue exploitation or gratuity, fulfilling the assertion that sometimes "less is more." As Komona is forced into the rebel army and eventually perceived as a shaman, of sorts, when the ghostly image of her dead parents warns her away from certain death, this tale of perseverance and damaging, cyclic nature lasts for over two years. Forced to kill and witness unfathomable earthly horrors, Komona escapes the cycle, with fellow child soldier Magicien (Serge Kanyinda), only to be brought back in and made into a personal sex toy for a rebel leader. This spiral structure is grounded by the voiceover-framing device of Komona speaking ambivalently to her unborn child — the product of rape — giving some context to the theme of persistence in the face of compounding evils. But while the story is told tastefully and competently, there's a sense of thematic and motivational murkiness about the film, with characters existing as little more than archetypes within a political vacuum, reiterating the Western sense of guilt and self-justification more so than the horrific realities transpiring in Africa. The greater human truths are tenuous at best, with broad mantras about the nature of war being exacerbated by the subjugation and abuse of a young girl. It's as though any sort of story or subtext was tagged on after Nguyen decided he was going to make an important "issue" movie that would ramp up his artistic credibility and urban liberal image of perceived worldly awareness. And so, as much as the naturalistic performances and grounded cinematography work, there's hollowness and pretension in Rebelle that are unfortunately inescapable. Unfortunately, the commentary track included with the DVD is in French, without English subtitles, so any further contextualizing or intention remains a mystery for Anglophone audiences.
(Mongrel Media)

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