Written and directed by Marta D’Ocon, ‘The War Within’ is a drama short that stars Sabrina Hartmann, Laura Urgelles and Alan Corvaia. Based on the experiences of a young rebel fighter during her formative years, the film won numerous film accolades across the globe. The War Within was also the 2022 Official Selection in the Emerging Filmmaker Showcase at Cannes Film Festival.
Deep in the jungles of Latin America, Matilde lives a normal life with her family as an anti-government insurgency rages all around. In a cruel turn of events, government forces massacre her entire family one night and by stroke of luck, Matilde is the only survivor. Full of rage and fury, the young girl joins the rebellion to avenge her family. As personal issues threaten to derail her fight, Matilde will realise that she can rely on no one but herself if she is to take the fight to the enemy.
There is much to unpack in The War Within. Female rebel fighters in Latin America have been a reality for as long as resistance movements have occurred, and the film makes a brave tumble into this fascinating page of history. Also, this is obviously a very feminist film, one that highlights how cards are always stacked against women in any scenario. The only help Matilde gets in some capacity is from her female commander and the men in this story are either abusive (the father) or unreliable (the boyfriend).
Marta D’Ocon takes this feminist tale and makes it brutal and inspiring, ensuring that the protagonist undergoes a trial by fire before her rebirth into something new entirely. While this has been a staple in fiction, what D’Ocon does better is in framing the story in a modern light. The stakes are high and relatable and D’Ocon does well to ensure the audience roots for Matilde without hesitation.
Any effective drama’s greatest strength is top notch acting and this is where the film greatly excels. Sabrina Hartmann as Matilde is fantastic. She is vulnerable when she needs to and steel cold when the circumstances demand it. Starting off as a naive girl in love, Matilde will push herself to the limits in order to avenge her family. Even a painful betrayal, resulting in a great personal tragedy, by her boyfriend will not deter her. In addition, Laura Urgelles as Commander Teresa is a commanding presence. The naive Matilda needs to be forged in fire if she is to have any hope of surviving out there. Enter Teresa, whose heavy handed tactics might make Matilda dislike her, but are absolutely necessary for her transformation.
Alan Corvaia as Carlos plays the backstabbing boyfriend. It was ironic that Matilda was only saved from her family’s massacre because her father disapproved of her boyfriend and it was this exact boyfriend who cost Matilda her own child later on. Fate works in mysterious ways and Carlos is nothing except a stepping stone for the protagonist in her journey to become a fearsome rebel warrior.
The cinematography and set design are impressive, transporting the audience right into the jungles of South America. However, one thing I did have an issue with was the lighting. Some scenes are dimly lit and improving the light here could have made the film better, visually. The scenes with firearms are realistic and the battle sequences succeed in making an impact, both emotionally and viscerally. Equally impressive is the sound design as it underscores the terror Matilde faces throughout her journey.
In addition, the narrative pacing is on point and no moment seems unnecessary in this half an hour picture. D’Ocon keeps the action rolling as Matilde stumbles from one calamity to the next. Moments of bliss for the protagonist are suddenly interrupted by a new conundrum as Matilde is shaken out of her idyllic life out into the real world.
Thus, The War Within is a moving and powerful short that takes the audience on an odyssey of sacrifice as a young woman comes to terms with the murder of her payments by joining a local rebellion. The film’s greatest strength is showing how a random act of wanton violence can set completely unrelated people on paths that will entirely change their lives. Seeing the world from the eyes of Matilde, we completely understand her predicament as well as the hard choices that she has chosen for herself on the path to salvation. Marta D’Ocon’s film soars and we cannot wait to see what she does next.