Rwanda, the forgotten genocide, is forced onto the worldís conscience in wide screen and full colour in the extraordinary film, Hotel Rwanda.
Hotel Rwanda is the African Schindlerís List, telling the incredible story of the mad bloodlust that led to the murder of almost one million people in a period of only 100 days.
The story is almost unbelievable, except that it did happen.
The entire world knew what was happening at the time of the massacres. The International Red Cross released periodic reports detailing events in Rwanda and Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, who commanded the handful of United Nations troops in Rwanda, was literally begging the UN and the Western powers to send forces to Rwanda to halt the bloodshed. All to no avail. No one lifted a finger to end the madness.
That leads us to the question of what caused this sudden burst of bloodshed and it all comes down to prejudice and racism. The Rwandan population was divided into Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups! The Tutsis had ruled the country for decades, with the assistance and cooperation of the European colonial powers--Germany and then Belgium.
On the eve of leaving their colony, the Belgians held elections which resulted in the majority Hutuís gaining power and then a military coup placed Major General Juvenal Habyarimana in dictatorial control of the country for some 20 years. UN pressure and a Tutsi rebellion forced the Hutu leadership to compromise with the rebels and when Habyarimana was assassinated, Hutu extremists used his death to justify the killing fields of Rwanda.
The film Hotel Rwanda tells the story of the genocide through the eyes of one man--Paul Rusesabagina. Paul is a Hutu who had married a Tutsi and whose main goal was to protect his family. He was hotel manager at the Hotel Mille Collines. He made the deals that assured that his hotel guests received the best of everything, even in the most trying times.
It was Paulís determination to protect his wife and children that led to his saving of over 1,200 people. Paulís hotel was an oasis of calm and a sanctuary for everyone who could find refuge there. Paul could not understand the hatred of one group of people against another and fought hard to safeguard those inside his hotel.
The film does not rely on gratuitous violence to attract an audience. There are few scenes of the actual massacres, but most of time all we donít see the actual killings. We just hear a lot of shooting and people screaming. But we do see a lot of bodies.
All this actually heightens the drama and emotions. We know what is happening and we can see people reacting to what is going on outside the hotel grounds, but we donít see the actual atrocities being committed.
The voilence and cruelty is underscored by a scene where Paul takes his wife up onto the roof of the hotel. They look down at the ground as Paul tells his wife that if the Hutu militia invades the hotel, she should bring their children to the roof and jump off the top of the building. That would be a better way to die, he says, than being hacked to death by a machete.
The film also makes use of an interesting device that serves almost as another character in the story. As the film opens and while the screen is still blank, we hear the voice of a radio announcer urging the Hutu extremists to kill the cockroaches and cleanse the country of the Tutsis. It is chilling to hear and sets the atmosphere. And throughout the rest of the film we hear the Hutu radio goading the people onto further atrocities, even encouraging the extremists to halt a UN convoy trying to transport the people from the hotel to safety.
As the killings mount, we see Paul telephoning the hotelís administrators in Belgium and urging them to use their influence with the European power brokers to intervene in Rwanda. But no one in Europe, or in the United States, is interested in sending military forces into Rwanda. The killings stop only after the Tutsi rebel army invades Rwanda and wrests control of the country from the Hutus. The people in the hotel are rescued when the few UN soldiers remaining drive them into a Tutsi-controlled area under military escort.
Thatís how the film and the real story end. The military conquest of Rwanda by the Tutsi rebels finally ended the 100 days of massacres and brought relative peace to this area of Africa.
It was only the courage and tenacity of such people as Paul Rusesabagina that resulted in the rescuing of the few who did survive the genocide. Like Oskar Schindler, Rusesabaginaís sense of humanity and justice made him a hero and a man to be honoured in a film like Hotel Rwanda.
Don Cheadle gives a remarkable performance, as does most of the cast, and Cheadle will almost certainly receive an Academy Award nomination for this role.
Starring: Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Joaquin Phoenix, Nick Nolte.