There is something in the human genome that condemns us to repeat the sins of the past; to forget the hard learned lessons of just a generation or two ago in order to live in the moment. And there is something far more sinister afoot in the human collective mind that allows a whole world to ignore the slaughter of hundreds of thousands when it was well within its collective power to stop it. Hitler is but a footnote; what goes on an ocean and a continent away is far removed from the day-to-day problems of the average American or Briton, of Frenchman, or Belgian.
But then that was what the United Nations was created for, but time and again it has failed in its core mission of preventing the genocide perpetrated by Hitler minions from ever darkening human history again. But it has happened again, and again, and again, most recently in the Sudan; who knows (or cares) how many will have lost their lives before the slaughter is smothered. And now as in Rwanda some eleven years ago, the United Nations (the world) has turned its back on Africa, finding little use for the dark continent after the rape of her fertile seeds is now complete. The West and the East have use for Africa, or her peoples and so they die falling upon one another at the hand of an evil sculpted by Europeans hands.
Such is the story of Hotel Rwanda, a harrowing tale of one mans struggle to maintain his humanity while one ethnic group declares war on the other, slaughtering hundreds of thousand before the debilitating end.
The (sad) Story
Hotel Rwanda is based on actual events, and is told through the eyes of one man, Paul Rusesabagina, portrayed by the ever brilliant and versatile Don Cheadle (Devil in a Blue Dress, Rosewood, Traffic). Rusesabagina is a man who knows how to press the flesh, how to win friends and influence people as it were. And he is a member of the majority Hutu tribe; his wife on the other hand is Tutsi. Rusesabagina is a man who can see across ethnic lines and age old animosities between the two tribes, but he is also naive in many important respects.
His country, Rwanda is coming apart, spinning out of control, propelled by a corrupt President and a pervasive undercurrent of hatred of the Tutsi by the Hutu, the latter of which blames the former for all of the countries ills. And the flames of division are fanned daily (via radio) by the Hutu militia, the Interahamwe, who are being supported by the Hutu majority Rwandan Army. Meanwhile, the Tutsi militia which has been fighting in the mountains is approaching the capital, Kigali.
The President, a Hutu, strikes a peace deal with the Tutsi rebels in the North, is branded a traitor for having done so, and his plane is shot down over the Kigali Airport and he is killed. Once he is gone, the country disintegrates into an orgy of violence as the Hutu militia, supported, or at least tolerated by the Army, slaughters hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus with guns and machetes, the latter of which were bought from China for ten cents a copy. Meanwhile the U.N. peacekeeping force is caught in the middle, and even see some of it members slaughtered in the ensuing madness.
Rusesabagina watches as his world unravels around him; his neighbors are rounded up and taken away, or killed in their homes; his own brother and sister-in-laws are missing along with their children. Rusesabagina is forced to flee with his family to the hotel that gave him his identity and is soon using his considerable skills to keep himself, his family, his friends, and others alive until help arrives. But, when a European force arrives and takes only the Whites out of the country, leaving the Rwandans to their fate, Paul quickly comes to realize that he and his country have been abandoned by the rest of the world, and that he is but another expendable African. He and the rest of the growing population at the hotel will have to fend for themselves, and Rusesabagina fast becomes the leader they all look to for their survival.
Hotel Rwanda was long on insinuation and (thankfully) short on blood and gore. Actually murders, hackings and beheading were only shown from a distance, but it did not lesson the message or emotional impact of the movie. The main antagonist was the radio broadcaster, the disembodied voice that continually let forth a torrent of hatful rhetoric designed to insight the masses to murder; it worked, and through the eyes of a man we witness the aftermath. But there were enough portrayals of human suffering and debauchery to make Hotel Rwanda hard to watch in places and in the end depressing in the extreme. You cant help but walk away from the film asking yourself how human being can be so cruel and unfeeling towards one another. But that question has been asked many, many times before and I have to ask myself when the worlds people will tire of asking it.
Don Cheadle, as Paul Rusesabagina turns in brilliant multi-layered performance, arguably the best of his distinguished career. His portrayal of the real life Paul Rusesabagina gives you a minute glimpse into the eyes of a hero. Few could have brought to the table the depth Cheadle brings to this role; his passion for the role is unmistakable.
But Cheadle did not carry the film alone, he was helped by a suburb cast of supporting actors, including Sophie Okonedo as his (Tutsi) wife Tatiana Rusesabagina, and a bearded Joaquin Phoenix as an American cameraman/photographer. Nick Nolte in his portrayal of the beleaguered leader of the U.N. peacekeeping force, Canadian Colonel Oliver, was less convincing in his role.
In the final analysis, Hotel Rwanda is not a film you rush to see because of its fictional drama, it is a film you see because you are compelled to watch it for its own sake. It is a film that will grab you and touch you and astonish you, and disgust you, and depress you, but in the end it will educate and enlighten you. And it will amaze you with a cast of actors that is very ardently pouring itself into every frame of this wrenching story.
It is a story that is inconceivable to most of us, but it is one that unfolds all too often on this small blue planet we share with the rest of mankind. There are lessons to be learned here, that should have been learned before, and there are truths to be faced about ourselves and the moral vacuum that seem to cling to humanity like a pilot fish to a whale.
And for all who might ask how could the U.N. let this happen again? Well it is, once again in Africa in a lace called Darfor in Sudan. Once again the world turns is collective back while African are slaughtered. How long before the movie, and will a character like Paul Rusesabagina figure as prominently and shame us all?
Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: None of the Above
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older
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