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6/22/09

How One Man Made a Difference: Review of Hotel Rwanda


Hotel Rwanda

What the "Hotel Rwanda" is can be argued, but what cannot be dismissed is the power of this two hour movie about how one man can make a difference.

Is "Hotel Rwanda" a story about internal, contrived politics destroying a country? Or it is dealing with how those in wealthier, more established countries prefer to pretend such trouble does not exist, that they need not become involved?

Is it about two very similar people groups killing each other? Could the movie be a reminder of how the systemic killing of a people group can happen today, that the evil of the Jewish Holocaust is not unique to the 1940s?

At first glance, "Hotel Rwanda" might look like a condemnation against the West's unwillingness to respond to an absolute carnage of genocidal hate. For some, they might see Bill Clinton, or the United Nations as impotent figures in this tragedy of humanity. They are easy figures to pick on, depending on the audience's personal politics, and the fact of who was in office at the time.

For me, the tremendous strength of the movie was one man's valor, of hotel manager's Paul Rusesabagina humble commitment to do the right thing, even though the world around him was chaotically destroying itself.

The plot is simple: two of Rwanda's people groups, the Hutus and Tutsis, are killing each other. Mostly, it was Hutu extremists trying to exterminate the Tutsis. A hotel becomes an ad hoc refugee camp, deftly managed by a man who preferred to be anywhere else. Can the hotel remain safe? Will the people hiding there survive?

Don Cheadle, perhaps best known for his portrayal as Sammy Davis Jr. in 1998's "The Rat Pack," is hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina.

Rusesabagina was just a businessman, the manager of the Belgian-owned Mille Collines, a top hotel in Kigali, Rwanda's capital. He worked hard to raise his family, and tried to keep politically neutral. When he saw neighbors killed, he kept his head low. When he brings in neighbors to be sheltered in the hotel, he still fights to retain his neutrality. However, when refugees start coming to the hotel by the dozens, he begins a new mission as the shepherd of a displaced people.

The bulk of the movie is shot within the hotel. Rusesabagina struggles to manage the appearance of a top quality hotel, since this image helps gird them against attacks. Bribes of money and liquor provide him with more protection, as do desperate calls from some 'guests' to their powerful connections outside of Rwanda.

When the camera takes us outside, we see awful scenes of gang-style killings. Although the Hutus and Tutsis aren't Bloods, Crips, Vice Lords or Latin Kings, but instead, are arbitrarily designated cultural groups, the murders are the same. Just as in any Chicago, New York or Los Angeles gangland war, the precise reasons for the constant violence are loosely based on dictatorial leadership, bigotry and bloodlust.

Listing the scenes which sank my heart is impossible. Singularly difficult to watch was the body-strewn road where Rusesabagina was driving.

"Hotel Rwanda" is not a movie to bring a young family. Like "The Passion of the Christ" and "Schindler's List," it has the kind of violence which is shown to remind us of the reality of the events being presented. Like in those movies, the audience I sat with sat stunned while the final credits rolled.

Like "Schindler's List," the antihero's commitment is the redemption of the story. Although 1 million "corpses were left behind," we see that although many men succumb to evil, not all do. Just as Oskar Schindler could not save every Jew, nor could Paul Rusesabagina save every Rwandan. But, just as Schindler helped a few, Rusesabagina also protected those he could.

Director Terry George might have chosen to dwell on what wasn't happening, and make this a political movie ala Michael Moore. He took the higher road, and tells a story of hope in the middle of a holocaust. I fully recommend "Hotel Rwanda." If the movie impacts you, please consider supporting relief efforts that continue in Kigali today.

Anthony Trendl
editor, HungarianBookstore.com
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