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Hotel Rwanda (2004)

"Before viewing" talks don't have spoilers, but since there's no "After viewing" talk for this one, comments may have spoilers. More»» by Randy Heffner

Is the film worth your time?

Hotel Rwanda asks whether we will do what we can to address the darkness around us. For 100 days in 1994, the world watched the horror of the Rwandan genocide and took no action. Through the eyes of a hotel manager in Rwanda, the film explores a personal transition from self-centered isolation to selfless, risky action. When confronted with darkness, what position are we in? What personal and material resources do we have available to respond? Will we stand against the darkness or run in self-protection? Hotel Rwanda compellingly tells a story infused with such questions. Generally, its filmcraft is very good — especially the performances by Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo — although one other lead performance might be a bit weak and the music may at times be stronger than it needs to be. Overall, I would put Hotel Rwanda high on your viewing priority list, even if — perhaps especially if — you don’t like films that cover dark territory. While providing a vivid reminder of worldwide apathy, the film can strengthen us against our own personal apathy.

Paul Rusesabagina manages the upscale Hôtel des Mille Collines in Kigali, Rwanda. Tensions are rising between the Tutsi and Hutu, the country’s two major ethnic groups. As tensions erupt into large-scale violence, Rusesabagina is of a mind to protect only his family. But, he listens. Because he does not shut out the horror around him, his conscience (sometimes from the voice of his wife, Tatiana) draws him deeper into the plight of those around him. He begins to see that, as hotel manager, he has the position and resources to protect more than just his family. The situation calls out of him more than he realized he had inside. What begins as merely a duty and a responsibility becomes much more. Running time: 121 min.

A bit of backstory

About a year after Hotel Rwanda was released, some claimed that the film overstates Rusesabagina’s role in protecting those in the hotel. For a couple of hours, I searched for an authoritative resolution to the question, but to no avail. Suffice it to say that: (1) History involves a process of approximation, (2) feature films often “approximate” more than other means of connecting us with history, (3) as Frank Lloyd Wright is credited with saying, “The truth is more important than the facts,” (4) the story might have happened just as the film tells it, and (5) Hotel Rwanda viscerally tells the truth about the genocide’s horror and about the Beauty there is when we do something about the darkness, recognizing the resources we personally have available, taking on the courage to use them, even at great personal risk. As you watch the film, I encourage you to take away not just the light of the hotel manager’s actions, but to continue to hold on to the darkness of why his actions were necessary — we are stronger when we remain acutely sensitive to the possibility of man’s inhumanity to man, especially our own.

The film is set during the Rwandan genocide and, although the film does not revel in graphic details, the quantity and manner of death (by machete and gunfire) is frequently clear. People are put into very difficult situations, making the film quite intense. There is some strong language.

  • Director: Terry George
  • Screenplay: Keir Pearson & Terry George
  • Leads: Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Nick Nolte
  • Cinematography: Robert Fraisse
  • Music: Afro Celt Sound System, Rupert Gregson-Williams, Andrea Guerra


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