Rungano Nyoni’s debut feature weaponises an oddball sense of humour in this pointed satire set in a place where the government has successfully taken ownership of the bodies of women. In Zambia, far from the capital, young Shula falls afoul of a disappointingly real local superstition and is accused of witchcraft – a matter that the police in the area happen to take seriously.
She’s given a “choice” to be turned into a goat, or exiled as a witch. Choosing the latter, she is sent to a camp of other accused witches, made up exclusively of much older women. They are all kept on ribbons that are said to “prevent them from flying and killing”, but these really just look a lot like leashes. These are carried around on spools, to allow the women to move from place to place and do manual labour.
The first half of the film is a wonderful exercise in ludicrous yet straight-faced humour, as we see a government official co-opt the superstition around witchcraft for his personal gain. Nyoni based the film on real stories and research she conducted in witch camps in both Zambia and Ghana, and as a result the film’s bizarre comedy around this misogynistic practice feels surprisingly authentic.
There’s comparisons to be made with Yorgos Lanthimos in the film’s style, with very pretty but rigid camerawork and an intense, classical score that contrasts with the utter absurdity of the film’s narrative. Speaking of which, the second half of the film suffers somewhat. It loses focus and becomes somewhat more abstract, leading to a mildly ambiguous ending that doesn’t have quite enough punch.
A farcical examination of sexism and superstition, I Am Not a Witch is a strong first feature, mostly successful in its satire but falling a little flat in its final stretch.
CAST: Margaret Mulubwa, Henry Phiri, Nancy Mulilo
DIRECTOR: Rungano Nyoni
WRITER: Rungano Nyoni
SYNOPSIS: Following a banal incident in her local village, 8-year-old girl Shula is accused of witchcraft. After a short trial she is found guilty, taken into state custody and exiled to a witch camp…