116. Hotel Rwanda (Terry George, 2004) #104 in IMDB top 250
First Schindler’s List then The Killing Fields and now this. Hotel Rwanda completes a triumvirate of true stories about genocides of the 20th Century. In 1994 amidst the Hutu genocide of the Tutsi minority a hotel manager called Paul Rusesabagina sheltered and helped to save 1,268 people from the ensuing massacre. Rusesabagina is played by Don Cheadle in a performance which scours his awful Oceans 11 cockernee accent from the memory. He is matched every step of the way by an excellent supporting cast – especially Sophie Okonedo as his wife and Nick Nolte as the commander of the UN forces. It seems that the film has been compared favourably with Schindler’s List beforehand. Whilst this isn’t a cinematic achievement on a par with Spielberg’s opus it is an important and well made film. It gives you the important details leading up to the beginning of the genocide in a swift series of scenes at the outset of the film. The madness that follows is given alongside a kind of potted history lesson.
Essentially, and this is a massive oversimplification for the sake of expediency, the differentiation of the Hutu and Tutsi people was exacerbated by the Belgian colonial forces during their ruling period from 1923 to the late 1950s. It was a case of continual retribution until a peace agreement was to be signed in 1994 by the President. The President was killed when his plane was shot down on its way to Kigali to sign the peace agreement. The Hutu militia used this as a reason for the subsequent mass killing of Tutsi’s and any moderate Hutu’s who would have peace.
The level of cold hearted violence that took place in Rwanda in 1994 is unfathomable by any standard. This film touches on it but it can’t reveal the true extent of the misery and hate involved. It has inspired me to spend a lot of time reading about the events and understanding the shameful lack of international intervention. Regardless, the bravery and resourcefulness of Paul Rusesabagina is incredible and this film stands as a testament to it.
It is worth noting that there is a kind of cultural backlash against the film in certain areas of Rwanda. Some of the press believe Rusesabagina’s claims to be exaggerated and that he is profiting from the genocide. It would seem that his story is corroborated though, especially by those whose lives he helped to save. The films producers don’t have the same kind of alibi, it would appear that they have used the notoriously labyrinthine accounting methods of Hollywood to wrangle out of donating any profits to the Rwandan survivors fund.
If you would like an idea about the Western reaction to the Rwandan genocide then please watch the excellent Adam Curtis short film on media representation… here.
As for me, no more genocide or depressing ‘Western involvement in foreign affairs’ films like The Constant Gardener or The Year of Living Dangerously for a few days. I need some lighter stuff for a bit.