Hotel Rwanda


What a day. Hardships, cruel twists of fate, but also the kindness of strangers. You see, I got this call from FedEx saying they weren’t able to deliver a package because they didn’t have the code to be buzzed into my apartment building. I figured that going to them might be less complicated, but how wrong I was! An hour of subway and bus to get to Ville St-Laurent, then I start walking the way they told, only to realize that the directions I was given are clearly wrong. Not helping matters is the fact that I’m in the middle of nowhere and that it’s gotta be the coldest the winter’s been so far. After thirty minutes of going in circles against freezing winds, I get to a phone, call FedEx back, get the right info and finally manage to find the damn place. And it’s closed! My watch says 7:58, in theory they close at 8:00, but they’re they are shutting the lights, preparing to leave… I’m like damn not, I didn’t do all this for nothing. So when a big black dude comes out, I explain the situation to him, even though I’m sure he’s gonna be like, tough, come back tomorrow. To my great surprise, he invites me in, makes me sign stuff, gives me my package, then offers me a ride back!

So what does this have to do with anything? Well, the package held a DVD screener of “Hotel Rwanda” and while watching it, I found it related somehow to what I went through… Except that I would rather spend weeks walking around industrial areas in the freezing cold then spend one day in Rwanda at the time the film takes place. In director Terry George’s own words:

“It happened ten years ago, there hasn’t been murder on this scale since World War II, and a lot of people still haven’t heard of the Rwandan genocide. Over a hundred day period in Rwanda in 1994, nearly a million Tutsis were murdered –800,000 initially, followed by nearly 200,000 collateral killings. They were mostly hacked to death by Rwanda’s Hutu extremists, who also slaughtered any Hutu moderates who got in their way.” *

Like Schindler’s List, “Hotel Rwanda” is “about an ordinary man who stands tall in the face of evil, or negotiates around it.” * When the story begins, Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), the Hutu manager of the Hotel des Mille Collines, is not above dealing with extremists. He doesn’t agree with their politics, but “it’s only business”. Even when he witnesses the first brutal beatings, he doesn’t get involved. What can one man do, right?

But then things turn for the worse. The radio calls for the extermination of the Tutsi “cockroaches” and before long, Hutu militias swinging machetes are everywhere and the streets are littered with corpses. Rusesabagina finds himself bribing soldiers so they’ll spare his neighbours and then taking them to the Mille Collines, where he’ll also offer shelter to hundreds more refugees.

“Hotel Rwanda” is a terrifying watch, especially since these are real-life, recent horrors. Right from the start, the inexplicable hatred on display is overwhelming. The full extent of the slaughter is more suggested than shown, probably because of budget limitations, hopefully not because the filmmakers want to use this tragedy for melodrama but would rather not get dirty.

In any case, the film is not as inspirational as one might expect. It’s admirable that Rusesabagina saved 1268 persons, but the film doesn’t forget that most weren’t that lucky. It also pointedly deplores the way the rest of the world looked the other way while this was going on. The United States, usually so prone to police the world, sat back and argued about whether this was really a genocide or just “acts of genocide”. The Europeans who’d been colonizing (i.e. exploiting) Rwanda send troops, but only to evacuate their own citizens, not being too concerned about the people left behind to die. As for the United Nations, they are peacekeepers, not peacemakers, so there was no one to stop the barbarians. When Don Cheadle asks Nick Nolte’s Blue Beret character why no one will come to Rwanda’s rescue, he given a chilling answer: “You’re Black… You’re not even a nigger, you’re an African.”

“Hotel Rwanda” is not the masterpiece that “Schindler’s List” is, but it’s still a powerful film and an important reminder.

* Quotes taken from Hollywood Elsewhere “Dispatches”