Movie Reviews: Hotel Rwanda




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     United Artists
     The true-life story of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who housed over a thousand Tutsis refugees during their struggle against the Hutu militia in Rwanda.
     Don Cheadle, Djimon Hounsou, Nick Nolte, Joaquin Phoenix, Sophie Okonedo
Bottom Line:

Briana McNeil

Movies have always had the potential to stir political consciousness. This year alone with movies like "Osama," which tells how the Taliban governed Afghanistan; "Kinsey," which reports on the repression of politically incorrect scientific research; the "Day after Tomorrow," which forecast the potentially horrifying effects of global warming; and "Motorcycle Diaries," which depicts Che Guevara’s response to the poverty in south America, director’s have used the screen to raise awareness of the repression, oppression, and disaster that we would otherwise be oblivious to. Likewise, "Hotel Rwanda" follows its movie brethren in raising viewer’s awareness to an atrocity that the international community turned its back on. Unlike a documentary though, this political consciousness raising movie is less about the massacre of 800,000 Tutsi civilians and moderate Hutus in 1996 Rwanda, but how one remarkable individual functioned amidst the genocide.

"Hotel Rwanda" tells the story of real life Paul Rusesabaginga (Don Cheadle), manager of the Belgian owned Mille Collines, a luxury hotel in Kigali, the Rwandan capital. Paul is a genial and intelligent manager who knows how to maneuver in a country where corruption runs rampant. Paul is a superb manager creating a luxury experience for his hotel’s occupants, while carefully creating relationships of reciprocity between himself and those whose help he may need later. With an array of bribery, flattery, deception and discreetness Paul is able to maintain his hotel’s reputation as an oasis of sophistication and decorum while sidestepping Rwanda’s reality of corruption.

When this movie takes place Rwanda is a nation of 6 million people, 85% Hutu, 15% Tutsi. The two groups speak the same language and share the same culture. The differences between the two were spurred by European colonialism. Belgium rulers created the divisions by concluding the tall and thin Tutsis were superior to the short stocky Hutus, and favored the Tutsi’s for positions of power. Resentment grew among the Hutus producing a polarized ethnic state.

The movie begins in the midst of this tension. The deadline for a UN brokered peace agreement is drawing near but ethnic divisive radio stations spit venomous accusations and hatred towards Tutsis. Trouble is imminent when the already tense and divisive society hears news of the death of Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, when his plane is shot down. Hutu extremists blame Tutsi rebels for shooting down the plane and within hours take to the streets. The Hutu militia group known as Interahamwe begins what will be a hundred days of slaughter.

As the Hutus begin killing their Tutsi neighbors Paul must turn the luxury hotel into an impromptu refugee camp for more than a thousand terrified Tutsi civilians and moderate Hutus. While there is a UN presence in Rwanda, the international community turns its back on the massacre, evacuating all Anglo people and sending only a few hundred peace keepers. Paul is literally left with only his own survival strategies, gained through running a hotel and living in a corrupt country to survive. He must make the hotel seem as though it is a functioning hotel, filled with paying guests all there to experience the oasis of sophistication to keep the militia from killing all of its occupants. Paul calls in every favor he has ever made to side step the massacre of his own family and those are attempting to gain refuge in the internationally abandoned hotel.

In the end Paul, his family and 1,200 other people survive.

Don Cheadle as Paul is spectacular. His subtle strength and desperation is apparent even while he must pretend that things are normal in the midst of anarchy. Cheadle’s accent is not only right on, but his depiction of this simple man who functions in a truly impossible environment is certainly worthy of Oscar buzz. "Hotel Rwanda" is a story of survival, it too is subtle, there are no fancy special effects, but simple shots of fear, desperation, and strength. There are scenes so poignant you will go home and shudder when you think of them again. This movie is heavy with its message, and the director makes no apologies for his opinion at the international community’s response to this atrocity. Its purpose is not simply to raise awareness, but as a testament to one truly spectacular individual and his story of survival.



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