No Room At Hotel Rwanda
Amazingly, a better film than "Hotel Rwanda"aired on HBO this March and is now available on DVD. Don't be fooled by the wistful title; this drama set during and after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda is about as uncompromising as a film can be, and still be watchable.
Mercifully, "Sometimes in April" does not show much more graphic violence than "Hotel Rwanda" does. But by focusing on the lives of a half-dozen people for whom refuge in the Hotel Milles Collines was not an option, it brings us closer to the full horror of those terrible 100 days, when hate-maddened Hutus slaughtered almost a million of their Tutsi and Hutu countrymen.
What I find most impressive is the skill with which writer-director Raoul Peck weaves a handful of personal stories into the fabric of a national catastrophe. This is hard to do well, as most would-be historical storytellers soon discover.
But after a slow start, we become totally absorbed in the fates of Augustin (Idris Elba), a Hutu soldier who refuses to join the killing; his wife Jeanne (Carole Karemera), a Tutsi who tries to escape with her children; Augustin's brother Honoré (Oris Erhuero), a radio host who as the story opens is being tried by a 2004 war crimes tribunal for having broadcast hate propaganda; and finally, Martine (Pamela Novete), the headmistress of a Catholic school attended by Augustin's and Jeanne's daughter.
These are urban middle-class people and therefore easy for Westerners to identify with. But unlike "Hotel Rwanda," which further cultivates the Western viewer by including sympathetic American and European characters, "Sometimes in April" draws us toward the rural poor, including some older people (not actors) whose brief appearances evoke both the searing emotion and the exhausted indifference felt by anyone who survives events like those of April 1994.
A personal note: both films cut away to Washington, DC, where the Clinton administration was stepping on its own tongue trying not to use the G-word, because to call what was happening "genocide" would have obliged the world to take action. It's easy to denounce well fed officials for doing nothing, but I was living in Washington at that time, and that same month was the publication date of a book I had been working on for a long time. So I spent those 100 days flogging my book. This is never a pretty sight, but it is even less so in the sobering hindsight provided by this film.