Over the next few weeks, our writer in Melbourne, Sean W. Fallon, will be covering the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) and reviewing some of his favourite movies from the festival.
Overview: A young girl accused of witchcraft is sent to live with a group of other supposed witches. Film4; 2017; 90 mins
Beauty: I Am Not a Witch is a gorgeous movie and it knows it. Director, Rungano Nyoni is not ashamed to put beautiful images front and center and linger upon them whether they be the foolish witch doctor’s get-up, the traditional clothes they cover the young witch Shula with to make her seem more authentic, the African sunrise, or the constant reminder of the witches’ captivity: long white ribbons.
The ribbons are attached to the witches’ backs and travel to large spindles the size of children, which hold them in place. Ostensibly this is to stop the witches from flying away but really it keeps them tethered in place to work the fields or, in Shula’s case, to be driven around the area picking out criminals from lineups and collecting offerings. The crisp white ribbon is present in nearly every scene serving as a ubiquitous reminder that these women, no matter how much we seem them laughing or drinking gin, are prisoners because society doesn’t ’t want them anymore or, in Shula’s case, their town just turned on them.
Witches: Shula is an eight year old girl who, because she is odd and quit, is accused of witchcraft. Once it is “proven” (a witch doctor cuts a chicken’s head off and the location of its death serves as evidence) she is taken in by Mr Banda, a government official who takes care of the area’s witch population. These witches are made up of old women no one wants to look after, mothers-in-law who don’t get along with their daughters’ husbands, and other women who just don’t quite fit in. These women are held in place by their ribbons and live their lives working in the fields or sitting around to be gawked at by ignorant tourists.
Shula: Maggie Mulubwa’s performance as Shula is captivating. She gives us all of Shula’s fear, anguish, and joy with nothing held back. It is incredible how much she can say while not moving a muscle, and her big, big eyes are like an old woman’s in a little girl’s face, full of years and years of toil, that all disappears when she gets a chance to crack a huge, wide smile. She carries most of the movie on her own back and is a mesmerising performer.
Overall: A funny, sometimes grim, satire, I Am Not a Witch manages to find a lot of humour in an unsettling premise. The final scenes are stunning in ambiguity and beauty ,and the central performance by Maggie Mulubwa is a wonder to behold.