The Barenaked Archives – Hotel Rwanda

From 2003 up until 2007, I was lucky enough to have “movie reviewer” as my job description. As such, I’ve built up a *lot* of reviews for just about every movie that came out during those years, as well as reviews of classic movies.

The Barenaked Archives are reviews that I did for two previous websites. Sadly, they are both gone, so this is now the only place online you can see these old columns.

Hotel Rwanda PosterIt’s often been said that times of great tragedy, like wars and natural disasters, bring out the best in people and the worst in people. It’s an idea that we’re seeing now with the catastrophic tsunami in Southeast Asia, and it’s an idea present in the excellent, gripping drama Hotel Rwanda, about the 1994 genocide in Rwanda between the Hutus and the Tutsis that left more than a million people dead.

Based on a true story, Hotel Rwanda is about Paul Rusesabagina (masterfully played by Don Cheadle), the house manager of the hotel Milles Collines, a Belgian-owned hotel in Kigali, Rwanda. He is a great manager, always there to tend to his guests and to woo the diplomats and generals staying the hotel for the peace conference during that fateful summer in 1994.

Paul is Hutu, but his wife and children are Tutsi. When the Hutus begin to massacre the Tutsi, Paul’s neighbors turn to him. Not knowing what else to do, he takes them to the hotel. More and more refugees start to turn up at the hotel, and when all is said and done, Paul has saved the lives of more than a thousand refugees.

Like most of us, I was still in elementary school in 1994, and while the name “Rwanda” jogs faint memories, the genocide was too far away to matter much back then. This movie forces the issue in front of your face, with sympathetic characters who have done nothing to deserve this treatment. They’re being killed because they were born a different race, and the Western world, the only place they can turn for help, turns its back on them.

Some could see the movie as a guilt trip on those in power who could have helped but chose not to. It shows the futility of having the UN peacekeepers, who have guns but are not allowed to use them, and then are left with only three hundred soldiers to try and tame the whole of Rwanda. It also shows the stupidity of the differences between who is Hutu and who is Tutsi. As a news cameraman quips, upon meeting a Hutu woman and a Tutsi woman, “They could be twins.”

However, Hotel Rwanda is also about hope, and has been hailed by some as this year’s Schindler’s List. Paul calls in every favor he has stashed up over the years trying to get food and protection for the refugees staying at his hotel. He bribes the army into giving him a group of Tutsis they’ve captured. He is put in an impossible situation, one that most of us can’t fathom, and he rises to the challenge.

It gives us hope that despite all the evil people in the world, there are still people who will risk everything and stand up to them because it is the right thing to do.

This is a movie that will spark discussion, that will make you think, and that will make you feel. It is a very powerful film that reaches out and doesn’t let go. It is more than worth the two-hour running time and ticket price. 5 out of 5 stars.

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