Review by Kam Williams
“The funny thing about genocide, you never know who’s knocking.” That chilling voiceover just past the opening credits sets the tone for “Kinyarwanda,” a moving series of vignettes revisiting the 1994 Rwandan Civil War from the inside out. The movie marks the brilliant directorial debut of recent NYU film school grad Alrick Brown, whose emotionally engaging ensemble drama made quite a splash at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year where it won the Audience Award in the World Cinema category.
Employing a cinematic technique effectively employed in “Crash”, the picture revisits the genocide in Rwanda from the perspectives of individuals hopelessly immersed in the conflict. The net result is an absorbing adventure which forces the audience to invest emotionally in the diverging fates of a variety of complex characters as opposed to the narrowly-drawn, one-dimensional characters usually served up in war flicks.
What was it probably like to live in a country where, for three months, members of two contentious tribes, the Hutus and Tutsis, hacked each other to death in hand-to-hand combat? And how were they finally able to bury the hatchet, or should I say machete, and embrace a peace process putting the country on a path to unity and reconciliation?
These are the sort of questions “Kinyarwanda” eloquently addresses not by depicting mob scenes of senseless slaughter, but rather by painting a number of micro tableaus involving individuals trying to survive in the wake of the collapse of civilization. For whether you’re watching an introspective army Lieutenant (Cassandra Freeman), a spineless Catholic priest (Mazimpaka Kennedy), an empathetic, Muslim mullah (Mutsari Jean), a coldblooded guerilla leader (Edouard Bamporiki), an innocent, little boy (Hasasan Kabera), or a teenager (Marc Gwamaka) with a crush on a cute girl (Hadidja Zaninka) from the proverbial wrong side of the tracks, you have an opportunity to bear witness in intimate fashion to everyday situations similar to what very likely really unfolded.
Based on actual events, it was quite surprising to this critic to learn the role that Islam played in the cessation of hostilities once the mufti ordered that all the nation’s mosques serve as safe havens for refugees, regardless of ethnicity. Congrats to Alrick Brown for making the most of a micro-budget and for coaxing great performances out of a cast comprised mostly of unprofessional, Rwandan actors touched by the tragedy.
An inspirational, modern morality play apt to restore your faith in humanity.
Excellent (4 stars)
In English and Kinyarwanda with subtitles.
Running time: 100 Minutes
Distributor: African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM)