Rebelle has a thirst for authenticity


Starring Rachel Mwanza and Alain Bastien. In French with English subtitles. Unrated. Opens Friday, October 19, at the Vancity Theatre

Consider the plight of African child soldiers. Even before abduction, they rarely hail from regions that enjoy either political stability or economic prosperity. Instead, they come from battle zones where the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse never stop galloping. Already ravaged by war, disease, drought, and the spectre of failed states, the loyalty of child soldiers is usually confirmed by forcing these underage victims to commit atrocities so “unforgivable” they must pretty much give up hope of rejoining “normal” society. After that comes ruthless training, rape, murder, mutilation, and a mindset wherein local superstitions assume ever more sinister shapes.

Compared to this extended existential nightmare, most other forms of PTSD look like the sniffles.

The hero of the story is 14-year-old Komona (Rachel Mwanza), an ordinary girl who is forced to slaughter her own parents after her village is invaded by rebel forces. The teenager’s stock rises once she emerges as the sole survivor of a clash with government troops. Promoted “war witch” by the top rebel leader, she becomes one of his many mistresses. Only a more equitable relationship with an albino boy offers some solace, but that relief, like everything else around Komona, is short-lived. Eventually, she must come to terms with the ghosts she has so unwillingly created.

To dramatize such a situation is, clearly, no easy task. Nevertheless, that is precisely what Kim Nguyen tries to do in Rebelle. In this endeavour, he employs a restraint that is simultaneously admirable and strangely off-putting. To its credit, Rebelle does not indulge in Hollywood’s penchant for superimposing comfortingly familiar beliefs on people and places where they do not belong. Unfortunately, this thirst for authenticity results in a certain degree of affective opacity. Although we sympathize with Komona wholeheartedly, full dramatic catharsis somehow remains just out of reach.

Watch the trailer for Rebelle.

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