Retro Film Review: Hotel Rwanda (2004)
In Spring of 1994, just few weeks after Spielberg won Schindler's List and few weeks after Western powers began taking more active and, ultimately, more effective approach towards ending the war in Bosnia, something extraordinary happened and one forgotten piece of the world suddenly received media attention. However, just as it is always the case in today's world, reason for that attention was anything but pleasant. What the world saw was so brutal that the first reaction was shock, disbelief and denial. And once the whole thing was over, world's media machine began to push those events out of the world's collective psyche and pretend that they had never happened. This explains why those events weren't covered by Hollywood or any major Western film production. To first of those films was Hotel Rwanda, 2004 drama directed by Terry George.
The plot, based on a true story, starts in Kigali, capital of Rwanda, Central African nation and former Belgian colony that was plagued by decades of ethnic tensions between majority Hutus and minority Tutsis. However, in Spring of 1994 it seems that the long civil war between Hutu-dominated government and Tutsi-dominated rebels is going to end with negotiated settlement. All that is of little concern to Paul Rusesabagina (played by Don Cheadle), manager of luxurious Belgian-owned Hotel de Mille Collines. Rusesabagina, an ethnic Hutu, doesn't care about politics but, apart from striking friendship with many influential Western businessmen and diplomats that frequent the hotel, he also nurtured good ties with top echelons of Rwandan government, military and, last but not least, increasingly militant Hutu politicians. His motive is not only to secure smooth running of the hotel but also to gain favours that might serve him well in increasingly turbulent times. The times indeed become turbulent when the assassination of Rwandan president triggers Hutu militias to conduct well-planned and well-organised killings of every Tutsi or moderate Hutu that they can land their hands on. Since Paul's wife Tatiana (played by Sophie Okonedo) happens to be Tutsi, Paul decides to shelter her, his children and, later, his in-laws in the hotel in the hope that the UN peacekeepers and Western powers will protect them. But his hopes are quickly dashed by Colonel Oliver (played by Nick Nolte), commander of Canadian UN peacekeepers, who informs him that his small, outgunned and outmanned force is not authorised to protect anyone and that USA and other Western powers will, in effect, abandon people of Rwanda to their fate. Rusesabagina now must rely only on himself and uses bribery, bluff and reason to prevent Hutu militias from coming to hotel and slaughtering the refugees.
Rwandan genocide of 1994 was not only one of the darkest chapters in that nation's history. It was also the event that, like few other, exposed the hypocrisy of today's Western civilisation. Clinton's and other administrations, in some other instances more than eager to launch wars under humanitarian pretext, were finding all possible excuses not to intervene and stop massacres that even surpassed Holocaust in its efficiency. Since that event was contrary to the image of USA as benevolent and omnipotent world's sole superpower, it isn't surprising that Hollywood ignored it in last ten years. Hotel Rwanda was, therefore, shot by Canadian, South African and European film companies. Director and co-writer Terry George was a good choice to helm this project because events in Rwanda – based on complicated history and tribal divisions almost incomprehensible to an average Westerner - had something in common with the conflict in Northern Ireland, subject of his previous films. In Hotel Rwanda George takes his time to lay out some basic facts about those bloody events and their origin.
Result of his efforts is relatively long but very informative film that would help people in learning something about this ignored and forgotten chapter of recent world history. However, those viewers who have some prior knowledge about events in Rwanda are going to be slightly disappointed. Hotel Rwanda was often compared with Schindler's List and, although Spielberg's film doesn't look as great now as it did eleven years ago, it is still more effective than this one. The main reason is in the protagonist who is less enigmatic and, therefore, less interesting than Oskar Schindler. Rusesabagina, played very well by Don Cheadle, is a portrayed as dedicated family man who doesn't have any motives other than well-being of his fellow men. Other characters in film, even including members of Rusesabagina's family, are even less interesting - their only purpose is either to create melodrama, make some political points (like UN general) or simply allow some better-known Western actor to show his face and improve commercial chances of the film. Underwritten character of American TV cameraman, played by Joaquin Phoenix, is one example of that. However, the worst mistake George did was to succumb to censorship standards of modern Hollywood. Hotel Rwanda doesn't show some of the images that were on TV screens one decade ago and because of that the film loses some of its impact.
However, those flaws should be forgiven. Hotel Rwanda is a film that simply had to be made. Once it was made, it has to be watched by as many people as possible. They need to see it not only in order to be reminded of the past horrors, but also to remain vigilant and prevent same horrors happening again in the future.
RATING: 6/10 (++)
(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.films.reviews on December 2nd 2004)
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