Monday, January 10, 2005

Hotel Rwanda

Not all deliberate films are good films. Neither does the lack of a deliberate approach always signal a bad film. Sometimes, the deliberate intent of a filmmaker is all that is required. Sometimes, when what you have to say is important enough, just getting your head above the fray and attracting people’s attention long enough to say it is achievement enough.

Terry George's Hotel Rwanda is not a film I would describe as deliberately-constructed. Its production design is flat and uninspired. Its cinematography is uniformly bland. Its costume design is not particularly realistic (have you ever seen soldiers’ fatigues so neatly pressed during a time of war?). Its cast, led by the inimitable Don Cheadle, acquits itself admirably, but aside from Cheadle himself, there are no star turns of note here. Frankly, nothing in the film’s style is worthy of comment.

And while I can say nothing to recommend it to the aesthete, I nonetheless must insist that you take the time to see it, for some things in this world are more important than good cinematography and breast-beating actors.

Do you know where Rwanda is? Do you know what happened there in 1994? If you do, you are the exception to the rule in this country, even among “intellectuals.” But if you are aware of these things, ask yourself whether you can say why it was that no countries outside of Rwanda, including our own, stepped in to prevent what was happening there at the time.

When should the United Nations, or the United States, for that matter, intercede in the affairs of other nations to stop innocent bloodshed? What is the litmus test? Is it an empirical matter of body-count? Did the nearly one million lives lost in Rwanda meet that test in 1994? How about the nearly two million lives lost in the Sudan last year? Or is it a matter of means? Is the slow, bleeding, suffocating deaths of hundreds of thousands of Kurds as a result of Saddam Hussein’s chemical attacks trumped by the machete butchery of the Interahamwe in Rwanda? Or the Janjaweed in Darfur?

These are among the unspoken questions begged by Hotel Rwanda. They are important questions. And they remain unanswered by a population who would rather flip the channel over to watch reruns of “Friends” when the word genocide appears on CNN.

Let me say it again: see this film. Think about it. And then decide what to do. Or decide to continue to do nothing.


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