Audiences find no refuge from terror in ‘Hotel Rwanda’
Brandon Hollihan | Tuesday, April 26, 2005
You might view “Hotel Rwanda” with the expectation that it will expose its audience to the savagery and genocide that tormented the Rwandan people in the 1990s – savagery whose effects are still felt today. This is correct, but the film’s primary theme is the whole-scale separation the nation endured, which ranges from the Hutus and the Tutsis and tapers all the way down to immediate family members. Through this method, “Hotel Rwanda” conveys to its audience the emotional heartbreak of Rwandan refugees as they witness the bloodshed and strive to find a way to escape.Don Cheadle plays Paul Rusesabagina, manager of the Mille Collines, a 4-star Belgian Hotel in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. His position enables him to meet wealthy and powerful people, such as General Bizimungu (Fana Mokoena), who became notorious in leading the genocide of Tutsis in April of 1994, and Canadian UN peacekeeper Colonel Oliver (Nick Nolte), who shows true devotion to relieving the Rwandan people of their plight. The film opens with ethnic tensions already visible in the city streets, with extremist groups demonstrating. Paul tries to remain oblivious to this and loyal to both his well-financing job and his family, and he displays his fidelity to his wife Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo) throughout the film. All hell breaks loose when the Rwandan president is assassinated, the Hutus commence genocide of the Tutsis and Paul sees his stability swept out from under his feet. His hotel begins to convert into a refuge for Hutus and Tutsis alike as the European guests make their way out of the nation and the UN ultimately decides to leave the African natives at the hotel on their own. As the plot continues, Paul becomes more and more convinced that the best he can do for not only his family, but also the other families, wounded and Rwandan orphans housed in at the hotel, is protect them from the chaos outside the hotel boundaries and wait for whatever UN relief Oliver can arrange for them. In the meantime, he bargains and pleads with the likes of Bizimungu to keep all hostilities away from his hotel, sometimes having to outsmart them and even browbeat them to get what he needs to ensure the survival of more than 1,200 refugees.Cheadle takes on an intrepid role in playing Rusesabagina – his character gets a gun put to his head, and he witness a trail littered with the bodies of murdered Tutsis. The goal for Cheadle is to get through this entire trauma without turning his performance into melodramatic falsity, and his emotional scope peaks almost perfectly at the point when he takes serious action. Okonedo is also brave, playing a devoted wife and mother who demands that Paul not leave the family. The film is very lush and colorful – showing the bright colors worn by both Tutsi and Hutu fighters – but makes use of a dark blue tinting when the film is most down-to-earth and most sobering. One scene in particular, when Tutsi and Hutu children are separated from their white caretakers, uses this technique to cast a feeling of despair upon the entire situation.The “Hotel Rwanda” DVD is fairly solid. Along with commentaries from Cheadle, director Terry George (a Northern Irishman who stated how poignant the subject became to him and who also deserves applause for his effort and research), the real-life Paul Rusesabagina and Wycleaf Jean, there is “A Message for Peace,” a feature on the making of the film and “Return to Rwanda,” detailing Rusesabagina’s first visit back to Rwanda and the Mille Collines Hotel. However, the film itself, with its critical look at a situation to which the bulk of Western society paid very little attention, remains the big sell.