HOTEL RWANDA
 

Directed by Terry George. 2004.


Talking Pictures alias talkingpix.co.uk
 
 


 
 

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Just over ten years ago, Rwanda, a former Belgian colony the size of Vermont, became a horrific killing field, the result of ethnic, social, and political hatred between the majority Hutus and the rival Tutsis, the former ruling elite who ran the country for the Belgians and treated the Hutu as second class citizens. The Washington Post reported "how the heads and limbs of victims were sorted and piled neatly, a bone-chilling order in the midst of chaos that harked back to the Holocaust." The massacre that claimed over one million lives was triggered by the still unsolved assassination of Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana, whose plane was gunned down by missiles on his return from a conference in Dar-es Salam. Senior Hutu leaders used the downing of the plane as an excuse to exterminate Tutsis and moderate Hutus. While the UN maintained a peacekeeping presence they did not intervene, nor did the U.S., France, Belgium or other Western powers who had the power to stop it.

In the Oscar-nominated film Hotel Rwanda, the atrocity is dramatized through the story of the determination of one man who sheltered over 1000 Tutsis including his wife (Sophie Okenado), a Tutsi woman, and his children. Don Cheadle portrays hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina in a towering performance that earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Rusesabagina, who served as an advisor to the film, managed the Belgian-owned Hotel Mille Collines in the city of Kigali, a luxury hotel where UN dignitaries socialized with Western diplomats and media. As homes are invaded and bodies pile up, people are forced to leave their homes and seek shelter in churches, schools, and in this case the luxury hotel. 

As the sounds of fighting outside increase, the White guests are forced to leave and the remaining Africans are left to defend themselves with the token aid of the UN peacekeeping force, led by Colonel Oliver (Nick Nolte), who is faced with an insurmountable task. With supplies of food and water diminishing and the violence increasing, Paul pleads with his guests to telephone the outside world in a plea for help but with scant results. The comment by an American journalist about the value of airing a segment explicitly showing Hutus hacking Tutsi civilians puts it into perspective: “They will go … ‘O God, that's horrible!' and then go back to eating their dinner.” 

Hotel Rwanda allows us to see the conflict in human rather than political terms and Paul's loving relationship with his family is believable and deeply affecting. Though scenes of gory violence are kept to a minimum earning the film a PG-13 rating, the scene showing Paul and his assistant Gregoire driving through fog and discovering hundreds of bodies of slaughtered innocents lying on the road, stands out for its understated horror. Though not justifying the massacre, more historical background would have been helpful such as knowing the role of the Belgian colonial authority in fomenting ethnic division in the country, and the 1990 invasion of Rwanda by the exiled Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front with the support of the Americans and the British. While Hotel Rwanda may fall short of greatness, it is nonetheless a moving and powerful film, an unflinching indictment of the political extremism that fed the turmoil, the indifference of self-satisfied Western nations, and the courage and tenacity of one man who made a difference.

GRADE: A-

Howard Schumann
 
 
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