December 30, 2004

MOVIES: Hotel Rwanda (Terry George, 2004)

Hotel Rwanda tells the story of Paul Rusesabagina, who was the house manager of an upscale hotel in Kigala, Rwanda, when the violence between the Hutus and the Tutsis broke out in 1994. The president was assassinated, and there wasn't enough government or official military left to keep the Hutu militia from genocidal slaughter of the Tutsis. The United Nations, Europe, the United States, and the rest of the world refused to intervene; over a million people were killed in a matter of months.

Paul's hotel (I'm going to just call him "Paul;" everyone in the movie does, and it's a heckuva lot quicker than typing "Rusesabagina" over and over) becomes a de facto refugee camp for nearly 1300 people, most of them Tutsis.

Don Cheadle plays Paul, and it's a marvelous performance. At the beginning of the movie, we see him working before the chaos begins -- buying supplies, schmoozing local diplomats and military leaders, bribing various officials -- and while it's not the way business is done here, it appears to be standard practice in Rwanda, and Paul is good at it.

When the violence begins, those skills serve Paul well, and it's fascinating to watch him use his wide network of contacts in Kigali to keep his hotel safe from the militia for another week, another day, another few hours. You can see the wheels spinning in Cheadle's head as he schemes desperately to leverage every tiny piece of information or material into more safety for his hotel.

There are fine performances also from Sophie Okonedo as Paul's wife, Tatiana, who fears for her own safety and that of her children (she is Tutsi; Paul is Hutu); and from Nick Nolte as the UN officer forced to admit to Paul that there are no peacekeeping forces coming, and that the evacuation forces are there only to remove non-Rwandans.

Hotel Rwanda is not the subtlest of movies; director (and co-writer, with Keir Pearson) Terry George wants us to face up to our responsibility for what happened in Rwanda, and doesn't pull any punches in making that point. But while the political message comes across, the movie is ultimately the very personal story of one man trying to maintain some semblance of order and decency in a disintegrating society. A fine movie indeed.

No comments: