CIFF Diary: Day 7 - A Tutsi Girl and a Hutu Boy, 1994

10/13 - Alrick Brown's new feature Kinyarwanda takes its name from the official language of Rwanda, a culture that was torn apart by genocide in 1994.  It is appropriate that the title refers to language, as the characters and events are woven together through various languages, and the ability to communicate the horrors of the genocide, to confront and forgive, are at the heart of the drama.

For what might seem like a heavy afternoon at the the movies, what strikes one immediately about Kinyarwanda is it's sense of humor.  In the first segment of six, the film introduces us to the Tutsi Girl and the Hutu boy at the center of the narrative, where the language of music and dance dominates.  Without the use of a typical, worn out scene of romantic dialogue, Alrick sets up the romantic relationship that will arc toward the beautiful final scene of the film.  Instead, we understand everything about the connection between these teens through a simple serenade from the Hutu boy--maybe the last song I expected to hear in a film about the Rwandan genocide, and which took on a strange resonance as the film progressed, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton's "Islands in the Stream."  Later in the film, a young  boy (pictured in the still above) leads a group of Hutu thugs to his home where his family are keeping Tutsi friends in hiding.  The Hutu's, having demanded that the boy take them to where the guns and the "cockroaches" are, follow the boy back to his home, where the boy pops in a VHS tape of the Arnold Schwarzenegger film "Commando"--the guns--then kicks the rickety, wooden TV cabinet a couple of times, which produces the "cockroaches."

The refuge of the Grande Mosque of Kigali - Kinyarwanda
The other segments of the film deal with the struggles between the clergy of Rwanda, which lays out the cultural complexity of the genocide.  Kinyarwanda allows us to understand that the situation did not just involve a binary conflict, as we also see (in flash-forward segments) the struggles of the Hutu men who committed the atrocities as they try to speak to the genocide while in reformation camps.  The film also delves into the relationships within the militia that moved in to assist the Mosques that were harboring those trying to get to safety, whether they be Muslim, Christian, Tutsi, or otherwise.  The scenes depicting the military involvement feature Cassandra Freeman as Lt. Rose, probably the most notable actress in the film (having appeared in Spike Lee's terrific Inside Man), but unfortunately those scenes create a stylistic gap between some of the more successful, naturalistic scenes.  Ultimately, the real stars are the non-actors who are captured so well by Brown's quick camera, as the film was apparently, amazingly, shot in only 16 days.  Kinyarwanda earns the few moments when it journeys into stereotypical Hollywood-style "cheers of triumph" tropes because the real heart of the picture speaks through a different language.  The final wedding scene, particularly, redeems the few compromises within the storytelling, returning to the surprising beauty and humor of a film that handles such difficult subject matter so expertly.

Up Next:  More encounters with film makers, Old and New.


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