Hollywood has tried to bring the horrors of the Rwandan genocide to the big screen, but the new film “Kinyarwanda” takes a dramatically different – and effective – approach.
The film, available now on DVD, uses an entirely Rwandan cast to tell its story, and the film exists with absolutely none of the slick Hollywood flourishes seen in movies like “Hotel Rwanda.”
That can make watching “Kinyarwanda” a chore at times. The information presented requires processing before the film’s unadorned narratives start making sense. The loss of 800,000 lives makes processing a knotty film like “Kinyarwanda” more than worth the effort.
The movie opens with a brief spoken word summary of the horrors from 1994 … a short window of time when the world looked away as the genocide commenced.
We meet the Muslim leader (Jean Mutsari) who tries to bridge the divide between religions as well as the Catholic priest (Kennedy Mpazimpaka) targeted due to his Tutsi heritage. A pair of young solders soldiers (Cassandra Freeman and Kena Anae Onyenjekwe) find common ground while coping with the massacre. A smaller tale of a marriage torn apart by infidelity is both brief and biting.
The stories may overlap in awkward fashion, but by scattering the perspectives we get a fuller understanding of the country, its unimaginable strife as well as the cultural forces at play. And through the pain we see flickers of hope, like when kind-hearted Muslims and Christians rally to restore their battered country.
The movie has a quasi-documentary feel, in part, due to the naturalistic performances. That often comes across as flat, but the consistency of tone allows the approach to dig deeper than conventional storytelling.
The Rwandan genocide is too ghastly to fully imagine, but “Kinyarwanda” isn’t interested in graphic imagery. When a woman discovers her parents have been murdered, the camera only shows a hint of the melee in the foreground, slightly out of focus.
The monstrosities of the real-life Rwandan tragedy still feel too raw, too fresh in our minds even if it’s already 18 years past. “Kinyarwanda” is well-intentioned and arresting at times, but one must endure an ill-prepared speech or two and some unadorned performances to relearn this horrible chapter in 20th century history.