Wednesday, January 12, 2005

 

Movie Review: Hotel Rwanda

Hotel Rwanda is an outstanding movie about a horrific tragedy that we all ignored.

Everyone saw the videos of Rwanda, everyone knew what was happening. It was genocide, pure and simple. And we all ignored it.

"Never again" became "Never do anything."

See Ebert's review here for specific details about the movie, but the plot is simple. Paul Rusesabagina manages a four-star hotel in the Rwandan capital of Kigali. His clientele is wealthy. They either earned their money in foreign lands, or stole their money from Rwanda, but they all recognize the hotel for what it is: an oasis in a storm of chaos.

The beginning of the movie feels like a typical Hollywood disaster movie, or even a zombie film. All is quiet and normal in Paul's life, but there are distressing signals that life may come unhinged at any moment. Paul lives the good life, but he's not interested in the money; he provides for his family, and takes tremendous pride from the dignity of a job well done. When the massacres begin, Paul doesn't use his position to flee. Instead, he grows determined that "business as usual" is the only business possible at the hotel. Paul does this not only for his family's safety-- he is Hutu, but his wife, and by extension his children, are Tutsi-- but also for the safety of the growing tide of refugees surging into the hotel.

The film subtlety makes it clear that Paul would rather not have to deal with the refugees, for they represent chaos, and chaos is bad for the guests. During one revealing moment, even though Hutus have started to murder Tutsis by the bushel, Paul worries whether he will lose his job at the hotel. It's a mundane concern, but one that rings true. Neither Paul nor anyone else at this point can imagine just how far the Hutus will go in their genocidal rage.

As things get worse, the United Nations peacekeepers in Rwanda realize they have no peace to keep, and their bosses order them home. Nick Nolte plays a Canadian U.N. commander frustrated at his lack of authorization to do anything to help.

Hotel Rwanda spreads the blame around, but it's most scathing attacks are reserved for the United Nations. While not inept, they are simply uncaring. Despite Paul's naive optimism (or perhaps just a flicker of hope kept aflame), no other nations step up to the fray to save the people of Rwanda.

By far the most humiliating example of Western indifference occurs while Paul and others listen to the radio. The radio broadcasts an American press conference with then-Clinton spokeswoman Dee Dee Myers, who is painfully trying to parse the difference between "genocide" and "acts of genocide." By this point in the massacre, it's not just insulting to reality-- the semantics thousands of miles away mean little to the refugees in Paul's hotel. Either help arrives, and they live; or it does not, and they die.

Critics have compared Hotel Rwanda to Schindler's List, and Paul Rusesabagina's efforts to Oskar Schindler's. The stories share much in common, but Paul's acts are less a matter of conscious salvation than the daily accumulation of modest charities. A woman is threatened? Here is some money to buy her life. Machete-wielding militia at the gates? Here general, take this bottle of scotch in return for sending them away. Paul uses every ounce of his ingenuity to keep he, his family, and ultimately over a thousand refugees alive.

Hotel Rwanda is an excellent film. Don Cheadle's performance is certainly worthy of an Oscar nomination. This is one of the best films of 2004.

---
UPDATE: For a commentary on the pathetic response of the Clinton Administration to the Rwandan genocide, see this discussion of Hotel Rwanda over at RantingProfs.


Comments:
There's a fairly liberal poli sci prof named Michael Barnett who penned several absolutely devastating articles about the UN's deliberate craniorectal insertion during the Rwanda genocide. The link is off limits for non-academics, I'm afraid; but those of you with First Search might could track it down. ("Craniorectal" does not actually appear in the title.)

I just assume people know about this stuff, which is why get angry when people talk about the UN's moral authority and legitimacy and how we should give two poops whether they want us to invade Iraq. But maybe they don't.

I assume the Nick Nolte character is the Canadian general who later shot himself, leaving a note of apology. Started with a D, I think.

--See Dubya
 
Was it Roméo Dallaire?-- I know he tried to commit suicide once. Did he make another attempt? I may have missed it. hope not.

HANS
 
Nolte's character was supposedly inspired by Dallaire, but his actions in the movie represent a composite of U.N. forces on the ground.
 
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