Hotel Rwanda

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            Kigali 1994.  The deadline for a United Nations peace agreement between the warring Tutsi and Huti is approaching.  The names of people and places, the expressions of rage unfold rapidly in bewildering unfamiliarity.  What would an African have thought just over a century and a half ago if he were reading about the American Civil War:  Shiloh, Shermanís March, Lee, the Yankees, the Confederates?   

            But as always, when the story becomes personalized, when we begin to know Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), manager of a hotel owned by the Belgians, and his wife Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo), the awful butchery we are watching on screen takes on a universal horror.  How can a world can that pretends to an advanced civilization close its eyes to genocide?   

In this powerful movie, as we follow the path of one family, we are staggered by the random, senseless brutality inflicted on their friends, colleagues, neighbors, and countrymen.  In a controlled portrayal of quiet despair, Cara Seymour plays Pat Archer, a Red Cross ambulance driver who never stops trying to help.  Director Terry George, who made the deeply felt Irish movie, ďSome Motherís Son,Ē knows how to film the uninterrupted tragedy of what men choose to do to each other.

Don Cheadleís elegant Paul trades favors with the local general, the UN Colonel (Nick Nolte) and the Belgian owner, knowing always he is building a savings account for the day he will have to ask a favor of them.  My hotel Scotch for your ride to the border.  Cheadle gives a heartbreaking performance as an honorable man whose civility is challenged at every turn until finally even his enormous personal strength can save no more of the refugees who flood into his hotel for protection.  The Belgian hotel owners rest in Belgium.  The French suppliers of the Hutu army rest in France.  The UN soldiers are not allowed to fire their guns.  The rest of the world looks away.

In every corner of the world on any given day these atrocities are committed by men who snatch power when it happens by.  They grab a machete or a gun or a knife and beam in their sudden power; permission is implicit.  Itís one on one, but in the aggregate, it is compounded savagery that becomes genocide.  The why of this is that one culture scorns the lesser height and thicker features of the other.

By the time the Tutsi drove the Huti across the border into the Congo, a million innocents lay dead on the ground. Paul Rusesabagina saved 1000 of the living.  If you close your eyes to avoid watching the butchery, the sounds of slaughter pour into your ears.  Of all the images that linger after the movie releases us, the most terrifying one is the joy on the faces of the killers as they beat and kick and kill.  They dance, laughing, on the bodies of their victims.  They have permission to be beasts.


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