Rwanda conflict not so simple
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, Dec. 9, 2011
For many, the 2004 movie "Hotel Rwanda" is all they know of the 1994 genocide in that country. The film took a complicated situation and laid it out in stark - or at least relatively easy to understand - terms. It was the story of a heroic hotel manager offering shelter to ethnic Tutsis who were being slaughtered by their Hutu countrymen.
"Kinyarwanda" takes that same situation and keeps it complicated. That's not necessarily a bad thing.
At times it's hard to keep things straight in this fictionalized account based on the tales of actual survivors. Which side is the Rwandan Patriotic Front on? What does F.A.R. stand for? And who are the Interahamwe?
It's hard enough to understand the difference between the Hutus and the Tutsis (differences that were, in fact, largely made up by their former Belgian colonists). But the film - by writer-director Alrick Brown, based on stories collected by Ishmael Ntihabose - makes even finer distinctions than that. Not just between Hutus and Tutsis, or between Christians and Muslims, but between good and bad Christians, and good and bad Muslims.
Ambiguity is everywhere.
Jumping back and forth in time and place, and telling its story through multiple, interconnected narratives, "Kinyarwanda" contains a wrenching scene in which a young woman (Hadidja Zaninka), who had lost her parents to a murderous Tutsi thug (Edouard Bamporiki) during the genocide, ultimately offers forgiveness to her parents' killer.
It is that young woman, Jean, who as teenager in 1994 opens the movie with this voice-over, following the sound of a knock at the door: "The funny thing about genocide is you never know who's knocking." What a minute, is this movie a comedy?
Most emphatically not.
To the story of Jean, Brown adds the tales of a Roman Catholic Tutsi priest (Kennedy Mazimpaka), Muslim clerics, an R.P.F. lieutenant (Cassandra Freeman) and others. "Kinyarwanda" - whose title refers to the common language spoken by all Rwandans - isn't hampered by complexity, but enhanced by it. Everything feels messy but poignantly real.
Listening to actors playing former Hutu killers talking about their horrific crimes at a reeducation camp in 2004 doesn't come across like acting. It plays like a documentary. Filmmaker Brown knows how to milk a moment for all it's worth.
Perhaps the movie's most dramatic one comes when a little boy leads a group of Hutu militiamen, armed with machetes and spiked bats, to his parents' house, where the boy has promised to reveal the cache of guns and Tutsi "cockroaches" hidden there. As the tension becomes almost unbearable, the boy admits that the guns he has been talking about are in an action-adventure flick on the VCR and the cockroaches that he's thinking of are actual insects.
The absurdity of the scene - like that of the civil war itself - is heartbreaking.