17 December 2005

Hotel Rwanda

On our recent trip to the US, we bought the movie DVD Hotel Rwanda, and played it the other night.

If anyone hasn’t seen it, I encourage you to do so.

It’s one of the hardest movies to sit through that we’ve ever watched.

It deals with the civil war in Rwanda. Some years before the time of the movie, the Rwandan people were divided into 2 groups by the Belgians who were in the country as “advisors”. Depending on the width of their noses, the native Rwandans were determined to be either Hutu or Tutsi people. In 1994 soon after a peace treaty was declared for the country, the aircraft carrying the Hutu Rwandan President was shot down. It was never proven which group did it - the Hutu said that it was the Tutsi, but there is wide speculation that the Hutu assassinated the President in order to start a war against the Tutsi. The Hutu then went on a genocidal rampage – to eliminate the Tutsi people. Close to a million Tutsi were slaughtered.

The movie is based on a true story of one man – Paul Rusesabagina who is a hotel manager, and is Hutu. His wife is Tutsi, and they have 3 children. Paul is friends with everyone, and you can see how he nurtures these relationships with some of the things that he does – alcohol for the Army general, special Cuban cigars for the politician – he knows that these “favours” buy him some favours in return, when he needs to use them. He's also portrayed as a loving husband and father - kind and thoughtful - and well-respected by all who know him.

When the Hutu begin their “cleansing”, Paul manages to take his family and most of his neighbours to the refuge of the hotel where he works. The rest of the movie is about his constant struggle to keep the hotel “guests” alive and out of Hutu hands.

It’s an intense film to view – it took us through a gamut of emotions. There is tension and fear whenever Paul has to confront the military or Hutu militia to save his people from being killed: the despair when a run for the airport nearly turns to disaster as the buses head for an ambush: the futility felt by Paul when he sees so many Tutsis dead on the road, and when he realizes that his attempts to win favours with the alcohol and cigars amount to nothing: the disgust when the western world turns its back on Rwanda and offers no aid. Among the despair, fear and futility, come moments of humour, such as when he discovers his wife and family hiding in the bathtub during a raid and his wife aims the shower nozzle at him like a gun: and times of happiness such as when they find their missing brother and sister-in-law’s 2 girls in a refugee camp.

The movie is laced together with sound snippets from actual radio interviews that were taped at the time of the civil war. The most pathetic and disgusting one to listen to is of a (American?) woman saying that they had heard reports of “acts of genocide”, and when questioned further by the reporters, she explains that this is some of the “terminology” that they had been coached to use to describe the Rwandan situation.

Please don’t let what I’ve written here put you off seeing the movie if you have yet to see it. It’s compelling viewing, and leaves you with the realization that no matter how bad the traffic is on Shaikh Zayed Road, or how frustrating the construction can be, there are people in the world who are using all their energy and wits to just try to stay alive.

Life is cheap and has no value – it’s how your life is lived and what you do with your time that makes the difference.

Paul Rusesabagina is a man who made a difference.


The Lady said...

Well said.

nzm said...

Thank you p(~_~)d !

I can't stop thinking about this film - and the horror that these people experienced.

Paul and his family now live in Belgium, and I wonder if they can yet sleep at night without waking up in cold sweats and from violent nightmares.

I wonder if he has managed to stop looking over his shoulder.