September 23, 2006

Review: Hotel Rwanda

From April to July in 1994, human beings managed to once again tap into their base nature and bring about horrors that had not been seen since the barbaric atrocities of Pol Pot in Cambodia.

During this horrendous chapter, the world sat back and allowed the killing to continue, mainly out of fear of being embroiled in a regional conflict that had no importance to their own national security: If there had been oil and other resources, perhaps, the story may have been different. The situation is chillingly similar to the current crisis in Darfur, Sudan.

Hotel Rwanda is an exceptional movie that truly captures the increasing pressures and horrors that a sudden conflict can bring upon a society.

Based on a true story, the film focuses upon a hotel manager, Paul Rusesabagina, played by the brilliant Don Cheadle. His life, prior to the war, is one that is preoccupied by pleasing people. He offers bribes of fine whiskey and Cuban cigars to high officials, in the hope of securing a good future for his family. His life is rapidly altered by the events that swamp his country.

The film is extraordinary in the way it summarises the reasons for the carnage in Rwanda. The Hutus, who represent 88% of the population, and the Tutsi, who represent 11%, had a long history of antagonism towards each other. Much of this was based on tribal distinctions established by Belgian colonisation. In 1994, within a three month period, around 1 million people were slaughtered.

Hotel Rwanda is very similar in direction and production to The Killing Fields. The audience is taken on a terrifying journey where society breaks down rapidly, and where the illogical is allowed to rule. Enemies of the aggressors are labelled as 'cockroaches' and exterminated as such, with machetes and knives.

The director, Terry George, who also co-wrote the screenplay, brilliantly invokes the violence and fear to such a point that all governments and people should feel shame for what had been allowed to occur. Too easily, Rwanda was marginalised at convenience for some world leaders. Hotel Rwanda clearly aims to neutralise any efforts to make the Rwandan genocide forgotten.

Throughout the film, there are many gruelling scenes of violence and death. In one particular section, Paul Rusesabagina is trying to return back to his hotel, with much needed supplies, following a road recommended to him by a Hutu marketeer. The vehicle is travelling through dense fog, when suddenly it hits a very uneven, bumpy part of the road. Paul steps outside and discovers a road dense in human carnage.

Don Cheadle's performance is mesmerising. His portrayal of Paul Resesabagina shows a man dedicated to humanity and order, who will try under the most difficult circumstances to retain those qualities at all cost. We are given a template of a very real, non-glamourised hero, who will do whatever it takes to save his family and friends.

Other fine performances come from Joaquin Phoenix as an American reporter, and Nick Nolte as a fictionalised UN colonel, based on the Canadian Lieutenant General, Romeo Dalliare. The bitterness and insanity of the situation is masterfully encapsulated by Nolte. He is a desperate man with exceptionally good intentions, let down by a world that doesn't care.

Hotel Rwanda is a film that instantly sucks the viewer into a reality that we all hope never to experience. This film has a message that must be heard by all.

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