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the holiday and hotel rwanda

It’s been movie week, last week. I mean, I don’t remember the last time I planned and saw two movies, two nights in a row. The first night, I saw “The Holiday” in the theatres. Decent movie, light and breezy. A few good chuckles, a classic ‘date movie’. Not too much to think, great looking people on-screen, nothing to make you wanna throw up. Not exactly amazing, but not complete trash either. The two main characters, in the movie are not a girl-boy couple, but two women, who end up becoming almost best friends, in spite of not even having met each other. Convenient. A “chick-flick”. The characterizations are nice, and believable enough to pass off as real. Sometimes. At times, the dialogues are well written, and the movie really is worth a watch in certain bits, although clichéd. Such as the one bit where Winslett’s character realizes that she is not a best friend, but the leading lady of her own life; or the one in which the old, slightly jaded, screen writer, comes to terms with his own demons by facing them; or the part where the Diaz’s love interest, who is subtly projected as a flirtatious Romeo, is revealed to be a doting single parent are well just cozy enough to warm you to the cockles of your heart ( I love that phrase, I have no clue why! And I don’t even know what are the cockles of the heart!!!) Well, that’s an exaggeration, if you are as hard hearted and cynical, as I am, but it does thaw you a fair bit, anyways. That said, watch the movie only if you enjoy those kind of movies. Don’t go in there expecting a “Notting Hill”, or even a “2 Weeks Notice” or “Love Actually”, for that matter, and you won’t come back disappointed. And preferably, take somebody along with you to watch the movie. Holding somebody’s hand while watching “The Holiday” will definitely make the it a good experience, whether or not you enjoy the movie. 😉

The next night, I happened to watch “Hotel Rwanda” on television. And I am still recovering from that experience. I had wanted to see “Hotel Rwanda” since its release in 2004, but somehow never got along to watching it. I still remember that time it played in Bombay. I think it ran in theatres for whole 5 days – just one show a day, late night, to the best of my knowledge – before it was taken out, probably replaced by something more viable and less controversial like “The Holiday”. Pathetic.

Here’s a movie which captured the horrors of the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the fight for power between the ousted Tutsi minority, and the Hutu majority, seeking retribution for years of Tutsi repression, under Belgian rule. If you were old enough or interested enough to pay attention to the news in the mid-90s, you will vaguely remember that terms and names like Tutsi, Hutu, Rwanda, genocide, the UNAMIR army, President Habyarimana were all over the television and the news papers back then. I too, had a vague memory of these terms, but it stopped right there. So, even while I was watching the movie, I found myself looking up these terms, and Rwanda in general on the Net, to better understand what I was watching. I suggest you do the same, if you decide to watch this movie, especially if you don’t remember the horrors that were committed then. It helps make “Hotel Rwanda” more than just a movie, another picture. It makes it a real story, of people who suffered and lived through one of human history’s most shameful times.

And, “Hotel Rwanda”, is a real story, of a man called Paul Rusesabagina, a well-connected and resourceful young manager of the Hotel des Mille Collines, in Kigali. When war broke out between the ousted Tutsi rebels, and the majority Hutus who had now gained power, all Rusesabagina, could think of was storing up all his favours with his well-placed contacts in the army to save the lives of his family, including his Tutsi wife. However reluctant a hero, though, he ends up opening up his hotel to over 1000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, and giving them refuge, and using all his favours, and political and personal connections to save their lives from the radical Hutus.

“Hotel Rwanda” is a well-directed movie, not made with the intention of shaming the West for their actions, or shock the cinema-goer with the blood and gore, and get the director critical acclaim, for himself. It is made to tell the tale of an ordinary man, and his inspirational reaction to extraordinary circumstances. Entirely factual, except for Nick Nolte’s portrayal of a Canadian Peace Keeper of the UN, whose character symbolizes the UN inefficiency in responding to the brutalities in Rwanda. The other cast is good too, especially Sophie Okonedo, as Rusesabagina’s wife, who stands strong with him throughout the ordeal and Joaquin Phoenix, in a short cameo, as a cynical video photographer, who has seen this kind of stuff too many times, in other battlegrounds, and doesn’t know how to react to Rusesabagina’s initial faith in the UN and the “civilized world” to save the Rwandans. But the movie almost definitely belongs Don Cheadle. His character undergoes a transformation throughout the movie, and he handles the change very well. He plays several characters within the movie, from a narrow minded man, whose only thought is to save his immediate family, to a Hotel Manager who fights hard to get his men to respect him in bad times, to being a reluctant hero, whose fight to save his family never compromises his need to help save hundreds of others. Amidst all this, is his constant struggle to be a good father and a loving husband, helping his family maintain a sense of pride, and humour, in extremely tough times. He takes on a difficult role, and runs with it like the wind. Several of his scenes are nothing short of brilliant. Like the scene when he can’t knot his tie properly, after having experienced one of the most brutal sights in his lie. Or the time, he bargains with the General to save the people in his hotel from the radical INTERAHAMWE, the Hutu militia. His portrayal is never heroic, larger-than-life, but always real and subtle, an underplayed hero. Undoubtedly, a deserving Oscar nominee, maybe should have been a winner too. But, even though he didn’t win that year, hats off to Cheadle for a job extremely well done.

The movie also gives a fair bit of insight into the minds of the people who lived though the ethnic genocide in Rwanda, either as foreign witness or victim. The depiction of the inefficiency and aloofness of the international forces; the helplessness of the whites who did care; the ruthlessness of the Rwandans killing themselves; the stray scene of children dancing and singing in the hotel to while away time, while adults watch them, wondering what happens next; and the fight of one man who managed to help hundreds live to see another day, is what moves the story forward, and not cheap thrills, and bloody special effects. If you know your history well, this movie will remind you of other great human tragedies caused by ethnic hatred – the India – Pakistan partition, the German Holocaust, the decade long ethnic cleansing as a result of the Yugoslav wars, the terror of jihad, even the religious riots in parts of India, over the past decade or so. And if you watch Hotel Rwanda with a fair mind, you will ask, “Will we ever learn? Will we ever survive ourselves? Will we ever stop butchering our own?” Not only is it a brilliant movie, because it’s a great movie to to watch, but it’s an even better experience to learn from. Only if, humans ever learn, how to learn.

The Holiday (2006) : Kate Winslett, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, Jake Black, Eli Wallach. Directed by : Nancy Meyer.

Hotel Rwanda (2004) : Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Nick Nolte, Joaquin Phoenix. Directed by : Terry George.

That’s it for now. More later.

Comments»

1. Anon. - February 18, 2007

Very good attempt at your first ever public movie reviews. extremely well done. happened to see the holiday too and well agreed its a chick flick but its nice anywez. somehow a good movie to watch at the end of a really flip all week. chills you out.
keep up the reviews. you’ve found another facet you can sharpen now:) congrats:)


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