Improv, AK-47S and an Oscar nomination
MONTREAL — Oscar nominee Kim Nguyen admires the tight structure and esthetic control of filmmakers such as Stanley Kubrick and Francis Ford Coppola.
However, when it comes to his own work, he likes to wing it a little.
That’s what he says he did in War Witch, which is in contention for the best foreign-language film Oscar being handed out in Hollywood on Feb. 24.
“We had written all of the script but then when we started filming, I decided to not show the script to the actors and to work through directed improvisation,” he said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
“We shot this film chronologically and I had specific expectations but the actors had a lot of freedom to listen to where their instincts would guide them. What’s very eerie, when you look at the film and you read the script, there’s a lot of similarities (between them).”
It took him 10 years to write the script. Yet when it was time to film, he would simply describe each scene to the actors, explain what he wanted — and they mainly took it from there.
In one scene, for instance, one of the actors who was a real-life soldier points to a deep scar on his neck from a bullet wound and describes how he got it. The story was true — he’d suffered the wound in real combat.
War Witch, which is also known by its original French-language title Rebelle, is the compelling — and often heartbreaking — story of child soldiers in an unidentified African country.
It focuses on Komona, played by Rachel Mwanza, who is taken by rebels at the age of 12 to join their army after they force her to kill her parents.
Mwanza was living on the streets in Kinshasa. She had never acted before being cast in the film yet her performance has drawn widepsread acclaim.
“She had so much courage,” said Nguyen, explaining the novice was able to be herself in front of the camera and exhibit a kind of nonchalance free of excessive self-analysis. Nguyen said that’s a quality more experienced actors often lose.