Vacillating between brutality, mysticism, and comedy, Rungano Nyoni’s I Am Not a Witch offers a cinematic approximation of a traditional African fairy tale; it tells the story of a strange orphan girl, Shula (Maggie Mulubwa), who stumbles into a typically superstitious, rural Zambian village and is immediately branded a witch. Mr. Banda (Henry B.J. Phiri), the government official who essentially runs the town, seeks to profit monetarily and gain influence by emphasizing the rarity of such a young witch.
Smartly, Nyoni contrasts the polemical thematics of a capitalist, self-sabotaging country’s ruling class with an accessible filmmaking style and a light tone to craft something anachronistic: Witch utilizes close-ups that accentuate the traditionalism of this culture and wide shots of natural, undeveloped vistas while also carefully regulating its inherent darkness through comedy and compassion in the way all the best fairy tales do. If the end feels a bit inelegant—Nyoni blunts its emotional impact by cycling through several potential endings—it’s only a minor blip of an issue for an otherwise stunning feature debut.
Published as part of Toronto International Film Festival 2017 | Dispatch 2.