Sunday, January 23, 2005

film: Hotel Rwanda

Hotel Rwanda 4/5

This is the story of how house manager Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), a Hutu, managed to shelter hundreds of Tutsi Rwandans from the unimaginable massacre at the hands of the Hutus, in 1994.

Married to a Tutsi, Paul and many people didn’t care at all about what tribe a fellow Rwandan belonged to. In one scene, he visits one of his hotels chief suppliers and is startled to see machetes spill out of a broken crate. His supplier friend, a militant Hutu organizer , gleefully noted that they only cost 10 cents apiece.

Tutsi President Juvenal Habyarimana signed a peace accord between the two warring tribes. He was killed when his plane was shot down and that only encouraged the Hutu militia to slay Tutsi men, women and children, anywhere they could find them.

Colonel Oliver (NICK NOLTE) and Paul (DON CHEADLE) discuss the dangerous conditions outside the hotel

Nick Nolte plays Canadian Col. Oliver, a fictious character, loosely based on Lt. General Romeo Dallaire, the UN Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) Force Commander. In one scene, a pickup truck full of machete-wielding Hutus drive up in front of Oliver and his handful of men, and when the UN troops draw their guns, he implores them to put them down since as peacekeepers they cannot intervene. This is after several of the Belgian UN soldiers were shot by the Hutu militia.

Col. Oliver is extremely frustrated by the lack of interest the major wealthy UN nations were taking in what was shaping up to be a mindless, vicious, bloody massacre. At one point, all the white Europeans are evacuated. In one scene he tells Paul that the hotel refugees are on their own, the UN won’t send any more help.

JOAQUIN PHOENIX stars as Jack, an American journalist covering the events unfolding in Rwanda

Joaquin Phoenix shows up early in the film as a camerman who snuck out to shoot footage of the slaughter and its aftermath, expecting that the rest of the world will be horrified, but unmoved to do anything. He turned out to be right.

All the acting is well done. You almost forget that you are watching a film. Don Cheadle was nominated for a Golden Globe for best actor, and Sophie Okonedo is excellent as his wife. The film has its share of heartbreaking scenes. After visiting his supplier friend, his friend advises him to take the river road back to the hotel. In the dense fog, they suddenly feel the van driving over bumps…

The film is based on a true story but you don’t get a strong sense of how Tutsis and Hutus extremists came to dislike one another. Read Lt. General Dallaire’s book, Shake Hands With the Devil, if the topic is of interest to you.

For a brief backgrounder on the history of the Tutis and Hutus and their conflicts in Rwanda, visit this site:

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