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This Woman's War

MOVIE REVIEW
Heart of Fire (2009)

Galerie_feuerherz_01
Senator Film Verleih

Making a kids’ movie about child soldiers should be impossible. The cruelty and horror of their daily existence seems like something it’s better not to discuss. On the other hand, to ignore something that awful can only serve to perpetuate it. “Heart of Fire” is based on a German bestselling memoir by Senait G. Mehari, who as a child was forced to fight in the Eritrean wars of independence. The film does an age-appropriate job of demonstrating how people always have choices, even in situations where they have no choice.

This is done through heavy-handed religious metaphor, but it’s effective nonetheless. Seven-year-old Awet (Letekidan Micael) has been brought up in an orphanage run by Italian nuns until the day a teenage girl arrives at the door. This is her unknown sister Freweyni (Solomie Micael), who has come to bring Awet back to their father’s house as another servant for his new family. A stubborn and feisty child, Awet is such a pain that one day her father walks the girls up into the hills, to a rebel soldier camp and leaves them. Their induction into the army is as simple as that.

Freweyni is given a gun and taught the rudiments of fighting. Awet feels luckier, until she realizes that those too young to fight are not fed. There are three main soldiers, junior commander Ma’aza (Seble Tilahun, with impressive hair), lead gunner Amrit (Mekdes Wegene) and soft-spoken Mike’ele (Daniel Seyoum), who takes the children under his wing. Unusually for a war film, it’s the women who are praised for their leadership and battle skills, while the young man frets over the children.

There are enough moments of lightness, such as the games the younger children play and their subterfuges to get food, to prevent “Heart of Fire” from becoming a horror film. But neither does the movie shy away from unpleasant reality, such as when Awet stumbles across some drowned corpses or when her friend is shot because of her. Torn or bloodstained clothes stay that way, and the other children don’t believe Awet when she brags about the orphanage’s indoor plumbing.

Director Luigi Falorni — whose previous film was the Mongolian “The Story of the Weeping Camel” — filmed in Kenya with a non-professional cast of Eritrean refugees speaking Tigrinya. Their conviction in telling this difficult story goes some way to make up for the stilted performances, but for an audience of children this won’t matter so much. They will be too busy imagining how they would behave if they were in Awet’s shoes. Older viewers can appreciate this attempt to make Western children aware of how lucky they are.

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