“I don’t know if God will give me the strength to love you,” says Congolese child-soldier Komona (Rachel Mwanza) to the baby in her belly. The young woman’s life would seem to be over, or at least unbearable, after she is forced to execute her own parents and is dragged from her village, indoctrinated into a world in which her assault rifle is her only guardian. But after the ghosts of the dead (seen as mud-daubed figures with eerie, blank eyes) warn her away from a jungle ambush, Komona becomes a rebel commander’s good-luck charm—hardly secure, but safer than most.
Canadian writer-director Kim Nguyen takes a matter-of-fact approach to both the chaotic brutality of conflict and Komona’s visions, which may be a by-product of the hallucinogenic tree sap the army’s children are taught to ingest. Although War Witch vividly captures the loamy richness of earth and the incongruous yellow of a prisoner’s suit, the color red is pointedly absent from the film’s palette; the violence is felt rather than seen. So too are Komona’s inner wounds, which Mwanza silently expresses in a contained, deeply affecting performance. The film’s subject is almost too horrible to contemplate, but it finds a way to space out the blows without softening them.
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