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Johnny Mad Dog, maybe 15, leads a band of boy soldiers in a civil war in an unnamed African country. "Don't want to die? Don't be born" is one of their shouted mottoes. We follow Mad Dog and his crew - No Good Advice, Butterfly, Chicken Hair, and others - as they kill, pillage rape, interrogate, and terrorize on their march to the capital. They take a TV station and lead an assault on the President's residence. We also follow Laokole, about Johnny age, as she tries to hold together her family of brother and disabled father. Is there more than chaos and inhumanity here? At war since age 10, has Johnny anything inside? Written by
In an unknown African country, Johnny Mad Dog (Christophe Minie), possibly 14-15 years old, leads a group of young child militia. After the successful infiltration of a TV station, who they believe support the President, they march on to try and capture the capital city. They rape, murder and destroy their way through the city, with scant regard for the cause they're fighting for or the cities inhabitants. Meanwhile, Laokole (Daisy Victoria Vandy), a young girl around Johnny's age, tries to survive with her younger brother and her wounded, legless father.
Shot with a documentary-like realism, director Jean-Stephane Sauvaire employed an unknown cast, many of which are actual former child soldiers. We are shown in detail how they are taken from their families and have hatred drilled into them by their colonel, who spouts his motto "you don't want to die, don't be born." It's a savage story set in a savage landscape, and, in the central storyline, we are not allowed the comfort of having any sympathetic characters. There are moments of black comedy - at the beginning we see one of the soldiers loot a victims house and put on a wedding dress, which he wears for the majority of the film, and No Good Advice (Dagbeth Tweh) steals a pig from a victim and stubbornly struggles to carry it on his shoulders. They are clever devices that make the film all the more terrifying and almost unbelievable.
The cast are superb to the point where I often forgot I was watching a film, and instead was watching a beautifully filmed documentary. As Johnny, Minie is dead-eyed and stoic, with only fleeting glimpses of a heart beating beneath his cold exterior. He is simply doing what he has been brought up believing, that what he and his crew are doing is revolutionary. They have scant regard for their own lives, being convinced from a young age that bullets won't hurt them, and their bodies jacked-up with alcohol and cocaine. As the credits roll, the sound of Billie Holiday's Strange Fruit seems a strange and ill-fitting choice, but it does not stop Johnny Mad Dog from being a powerful expose of a world that is almost alien to the West.
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