REBELLE (Kim Nguyen). 90 minutes. Opens Friday (September 21). See times. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
For a film about child soldiers in an unnamed African country, Rebelle is so restrained it verges on quaint. Canadian director Kim Nguyen's decision to look away from carnage and avoid melodrama is admirable, making room for sensitive and imaginative filmmaking, but it softens the blow the subject would otherwise deliver.
Non-actor Rachel Mwanza (a revelation) stars as 12-year-old Komona, a village girl abducted by rebels, forced to kill her own parents and baptized the War Witch for her ability to sense impending danger.
A whimsical interlude from the horrors of war in which Komona attempts to escape with an infatuated albino boy (Serge Kanyinda) unfortunately seems too good to be true. This segment is like an uncooperative film-within-a-film, an easy way to make us empathize with child soldiers by removing them from the very environment that dehumanizes them. Though this sequence is sometimes exquisite, its sweetness clashes with the harsher truths in the background.
We turn a blind eye often enough to bloodbaths in African nations, so the film's insistence on doing the same could be seen as noncommittal.
Nguyen's a talented filmmaker grappling with a story that takes a strong stomach.