Brief reviews of movies opening March 22.
⋆⋆⋆ ½ out of four stars
Unrated: In subtitled French and Lingala.
Theater: St. Anthony Main.
The child-soldier drama “War Witch” is a haunting take on unspeakably grim subject matter, shot on location in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We meet pregnant 14-year-old Komona (Rachel Mwanza) telling her unbelievable life story to her unborn child. Kidnapped by a rebel militia at 12, she is made to kill her own parents with a machine gun to spare them a slow, painful death by the insurgents’ machetes. Forced into military service at an age when most girls are still playing with dolls, she endures months of brutal indoctrination, combat training and forced labor. When a vision saves her from harm during a firefight, militia leader Great Tiger dubs Komona “War Witch” and grants her protected status. Canadian director Kim Nguyen works wonders with his mostly nonprofessional cast, crafting a romantic interlude with Komona’s comrade-in-arms, Magician (Serge Kanyinda), that never feels forced. Her pregnancy takes Komona out of battle, but into a new round of struggles in a desperately poor nation where occasional nuggets of simple kindness are the most precious natural resource of all.
⋆⋆ ½ out of four stars
Rated: PG-13 for some sexual material, thematic elements and smoking. In subtitled German.
Christian Petzold’s slow-simmering 1980s political drama features Nina Hoss as the title character, a steely East Berlin physician banished to a small rural hospital for requesting an exit visa to the West. The film richly evokes the paranoid atmosphere of an authoritarian surveillance state. Every interaction is guarded, betrayal lurks around each corner, and every citizen justifiably fears spies are watching. Barbara shuns the clinic’s amiable, bearlike chief physician, Andre (Ronald Zehrfeld), because he might be working with the secret police. In fact she cuts herself off from most casual human contact, opening up only with her West German lover, Jörg (Mark Waschke). Alas, Hoss’ repressed character is not a very engaging camera subject. When a pregnant runaway needs their care, Barbara and Andre must reach across the wall separating them, and Barbara ponders the possibility of finding a fulfilling life in a repressive state. The effect of all this internalized anxiety, wan northern light, dreary dwellings and too-empty public cobblestone squares is oppressive. Though the film runs a mere 105 minutes, it weighs on viewers like an eternity.
THE WAITING ROOM
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Peter Nicks’ documentary is a fly-on-the-wall view of controlled chaos in the emergency room of Highland Hospital in Oakland, Calif. It’s an understaffed, underfunded facility that’s overcrowded by underinsured patients, a war zone minus the shooting. What lifts his film beyond the parade of traumas we’ve seen on countless TV medical dramas is the focus on how shrinking resources turn patient care into a logistical nightmare of musical beds, premature discharges and patients lost in the shuffle. The staff works heroically to deal with the influx of families lacking proper primary care, but a steady stream of violence victims flows in like a riptide. It’s a vivid portrait of the crisis in health care policy, with the caregivers and clinic itself as much on life support as the sick people.