Hotel Rwanda (2004) ****
Directed by Terry George. Written by T. George
[The following is from the CIA’s World Factbook]
"In 1959, three years before independence from Belgium, the majority ethnic group, the Hutus, overthrew the ruling Tutsi king. Over the next several years, thousands of Tutsis were killed, and some 150,000 driven into exile in neighboring countries. The children of these exiles later formed a rebel group, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), and began a civil war in 1990. The war, along with several political and economic upheavals, exacerbated ethnic tensions, culminating in April 1994 in the genocide of roughly 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The Tutsi rebels defeated the Hutu regime and ended the killing in July 1994, but approximately 2 million Hutu refugees - many fearing Tutsi retribution - fled to neighboring Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, and the former Zaire. Since then, most of the refugees have returned to Rwanda, but about 10,000 that remain in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo have formed an extremist insurgency bent on retaking Rwanda, much as the RPF tried in 1990. Despite substantial international assistance and political reforms - including Rwanda's first local elections in March 1999 and its first post-genocide presidential and legislative elections in August and September 2003, respectively - the country continues to struggle to boost investment and agricultural output, and ethnic reconciliation is complicated by the real and perceived Tutsi political dominance. Kigali's increasing centralization and intolerance of dissent, the nagging Hutu extremist insurgency across the border, and Rwandan involvement in two wars in recent years in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo continue to hinder Rwanda's efforts to escape its bloody legacy."
It’s all true. Don Cheadle plays (magnificently, credibly, naturally and convincingly) Paul Rusesabagina who manages, in or near Kigali (Rwanda’s capital) a luxurious Hotel, the "Mille Collines" (French for A Thousand Hills),which is owned by a Belgian consortium. Paul is a Hutu paterfamilias married to a Tutsi, Tatiana (played by Sophie Okonedo.) He runs "his" hotel with great skill, elegance, efficiency and imagination. Living in troubled days, he knows all the tricks of the trade, mainly how to keep the goodwill of the army’s brass with offers such as fine whiskey and fancy Cuban cigars.
When the killing of the Tutsis begins on a grand scale, Paul opens the hotel to hundreds (if not more) of people and ultimately gets credited with saving about one thousand (some sources say over 1,200) of them.
Violence is part and parcel of the film, yet the visuals manage to keep stopping short of "graphic-plus" sights -- though enough is left to our imagination. Then there’s Paul who keeps his cool, as it were, also keeps finding ideas and solutions to save his "flock", and throughout appears neatly dressed, often in fact fashionably garbed with impeccably pressed shirts, ties and the rest. Cleverly, this state of things comes to an end (or is it a pause?) when Paul breaks down before the horror of events.
Mr. Cheadle is the focus of our attention all the time as he carries exponentially the burden of the movie’s story. Note, however, that performances by the other players are excellent, down to small –even very small --supporting parts. The "big name" actor here is Nick Nolte as a United Nations commander who is repeatedly frustrated by having his hands tied by the lack of action of the world powers. (It’s all true historically. Lt. General Romeo Dallaire --a Canadian, I think-- was the helpless top dog of the U.N. forces in Rwanda.)
The movie, conceived and executed (pardon that word) in a near-documentary way, is an eye-opener, both for those few who have some knowledge of history and for the many who do not. It also comes as a relief from the Neverland fantasies, special effects showcases, fantasies or "entertainments" that put techniques ahead of humans.
At the risk of repeating myself, Don Cheadle is a must to watch and admire, in one of the best performances of the 7th Art. I caught him on a late-night TV interview and could hardly believe that this man was the Paul of "Hotel Rwanda." Oscar! Oscar!
The director Terry George is a very Irish Irishman who, some years back, gave us the excellent (and Irish-oriented) film " Some Mother’s Son."