“Kinyarwanda” is a language spoken by 12 million people in the vicinity of Rwanda. The film by the same name from writer-director Alrick Brown gives glimpses of the 100-day Rwandian genocide in 1994, which according to its narrator, was long enough for the seasons to change and long enough for survivors to learn each other’s stories. Depicting possibilities for unity after the horrors of ethnic genocide, it screened 5:30 p.m. Friday at the Union South Marquee Theater to a nearly full house.
The film opens with a teenage girl at a party with her friends, singing cheesy American ’80s music and dancing despite the Rwandan genocide unfolding just outside. Her boyfriend walks her home past curfew, where they find a group of Hutu militants ready to execute a group of Tutsis. They wave to the boyfriend, and the two make it safely to her house. Amidst a scene of teenage love, machine guns fire in the distance.
After a grisly scene that follows, five other stories unfold: Rwandan Patriotic Front soldiers attempting to liberate the Tutsis, an arguing couple made of a Tutsi wife and unfaithful Hutu husband, a young boy who meets a group of Hutu militants, a Mufti and a conflict between his children and the cooperation between an imam and a priest. While the stories initially seem disjointed, they end up intertwining in subtle and intricate ways reminiscent of 2006’s similarly poignant “Babel.”
“Hotel Rwanda,” the cinematic predecessor of “Kinyarwanda,” told the story of the Rwandan genocide with a slightly different angle. Roger Ebert called “Kinyarwanda” the sixth best film of 2011, and for good reason. It takes a theme that is hard to fathom given the terror of ethnic genocide—forgiveness.
At a scene in a 2004 re-education camp, in which Hutus who committed horrible crimes are counseled into realizing the magnitude of their actions, a lieutenant says, “Forgiveness is asking for a miracle.” But in some cases in the film, it’s granted. Unlikely cooperation between vastly different religious leaders occurs, and an important perpetrator and victim couple finds common ground against all odds.
“Kinyarwanda” is as beautifully shot as its stories are revealed. Even in its most jarring handheld camera movements, it juxtaposes mesmerizing landscapes with unthinkable conflict, exposing each little by little to piece together the full story. Lots of tight close-up shots similarly disguise the setting. It even slips in moments of humor in youthful misunderstandings and feigned insanity, some purely out of naiveté, some to protect hidden Tutsis.
And for a movie about real-life horrors beyond imagination, the film depicts very little of it graphically. Despite the Hutus’ machetes and lead-ups to gruesome crimes, the audience is only given glimpses of blood. When one character is what appears to be mortally wounded, the audience can only see the dark red blood on his fingers. The rest of the horror is left to the imagination.
The narrative structure at times seems cluttered, and performances resonate a bit unevenly with a clear distinction between acting veterans and fresh faces. But its few flaws can be forgiven. Inspired by true stories, the film tells not only the importance of what happened in 1994 Rwanda, but important humanistic themes that can sometimes go untold in the context of war.