by Angelo Muredda A firm refusal of the charge that Canadian filmmaking is unable to see much farther than its own backyard, Kim Nguyen's Rebelle tackles a complex sociopolitical situation without reducing it to easy lessons learned. The most recent reference point for what Nguyen is doing with this first-person chronicle of Komona (Rachel Mwanza), a 12-year-old abducted from her home in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and turned into a child soldier for rebel forces, is probably Denis Villeneuve's Incendies. But though that film also reaches for global significance in tracing the grim trajectory of a politically disenfranchised child, its vagueness stands in sharp contrast to Nguyen's accomplishment here, which is to ground Komona's story in a particular milieu.
Given that Rebelle is an innocent's travelogue, punctuated with occasional retrospective voiceover from a wiser Komona addressed to her unborn child, it's refreshing to see Nguyen forego the philosophical child narration that's come into vogue in recent years and opt instead for something more functional. At first, we're as lost as Komona, whose perspective the camera often assumes from over the shoulder in steady takes that see her tentatively stepping through her new environment, sometimes armed with a rifle. So stultifying is her daily routine of being indoctrinated by banal aphorisms about their great leader that it's only when she connects with a fellow child soldier named Magicien (Serge Kanyinda) that we start to breathe a little easier, as the pace finally slackens for a short time while a new life seems possible.There's a magical realist element here that could have felt exploitative, involving Komona's visions of the white-painted ghosts whose unburied bodies she's crossed to get where she is. Yet in Nguyen's steady hands, this motif is a powerful visual manifestation of Komona's impossible guilt over bad deeds committed without any measure of agency. We accept the spirits as part of her field of vision, a trauma-induced hallucination that's simply part of her everyday life now. Credit for that goes to both Nguyen and Mwanza, a mesmerizing new talent who deservedly won Best Actress in Berlin for her performance. Programme: Special Presentation