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Hotel Rwanda - Movie Thoughts

How much is a human life worth? I don't know. Probably nobody knows. Probably it's a dumb question. Probably nobody cares. But that the was the question I was asking myself after seeing, watching, observing, listening, grasping and consuming 'Hotel Rwanda.' We live in a period where an American life is considered more valuable than an Iraqi life. The kidnap of a school girl in Britian hits headlines where as someone is kidnapped every few hours in Colombia and it's taken for granted. The French riots get international coverage, while riots, at least ten times worse, are a routine in many African countries. Popular media is screwed up big time. Popular peace keeping organizations are shackled by the first world countries.

I've seen a few documentaries of a few crises in a few African countries, and they all were emotionally unsettling. Life in those countries is difficult, to say the least. Slavery flourishes. Women are urinated upon. Children are sold. Presidents are kings. Warlords are emperors. In times of trouble, like what happened in Darfur, Sudan a few months back, if you're a minority and if your tribe is not in power, you'd pay someone to shoot you. Death is an oasis in that brutally sunny and criminally chilly land. And the UN couldn't do much because it wasn't a genocide as per their dictionary and I don't know who invented that dictionary. Sorry for the ramble. Here I go.

'Hotel Rwanda' is the story of Paul Rusesabagina, a good, simple and a decent man. What's extraordinary about him is that he remains a good man, a simple man and a decent man when somebody points a gun at him. That takes extraordinary courage. It's not the sort of courage where he plots and fights to kill the bad guys, but a Gandhian courage where his actions bear his goodness signature and are devoid of any violence. Paul is the manager of the Milles Collines Hotel, Kigali, Rwanda. He belongs to the Hutu tribe, which has just come to the power (in 1994, when the movie begins) and a radio broadcast addresses the other tribe, Tutsi, as cockroaches.

Because Paul is the manager of a star hotel, he has contacts with many high level officials and because of his human nature, he is in their good books. When the Hutus took the government office, there was a mild trepidation among the Tutsis and when the Hutu president was killed by the Tutsi rebels, the trepidation transformed into a strong fear. Paul takes his family (his wife is a Tutsi) and his Tutsi neighbours to his hotel. Good hearted Red Cross workers save as many victims as possible and they bring them to Paul, because he is the only one they know who can't say 'no.' Paul keeps the wagon spinning by bribing the soldiers with wine and money, but that doesn't help him after a while. What unfolds is a chronicle of Paul's desperate measures to keep the soldiers at bay and save as many as possible.

There is a scene about halfway into the movie. Paul gets rice, beans and milk powder from black market and returns to his hotel on a very foggy morning. Suddenly they seem to have hit a bumpy road and the van is stopped. Paul gets out to check whats up with the road. He stumbles, falls down and slowly, shiveringly gets back to his feet realizing that the whole street is full of fresh corpses. Along with Paul, I too lost my balance, and gained my hold on conscience slowly. They were all hacked to death with machetes and gardening instruments. And it was just one of many such streets all over the country.

The above scene is an example of powerful filmmaking. The movie is rated PG-13. There is no explicit violence. But we are allowed to understand the immensity of the genocide through such scenes, where we only get a glimpse, because it's hazy and unclear because of the time of the day and still we realize the cruelty of the massacre. There is another scene where Paul is unsure whether his family is dead or alive and he runs across the hotel rooms looking for them. The character development is so complete that I too was running with Paul desperately looking for his family. And when he finds his wife and kids hiding in a bathroom tub, they all cry and laugh and then I slowly settled comfortably into my seat with a happy smile knowing that his family is safe.

Don Cheadle as Paul delivers a stellar peformance. The beauty of his act lies in his simplicity. There is not a scene where he overacts or underacts. Sophie Okenado as Paul's wife Tatiana is equally admirable. There are so many close up shots of these two artistes and there is not a single wrong twist on their faces... every emotion they express is accepted without a question. The supporting cast, which comprises of Nick Nolte, Joaquin Phoenix, Desmond Dube... are all top notch. Terry George is the director working on a script by himself and Keir Pearson. I was simply immersed into the story and that pretty much sums the quality of work by the writer/director. Music should have been good because it never drew attention to itself.

Paul saved over twelve hundred lives during a three month hell where close a million people were killed. The UN didn't intervene because what happened in Rwanda couldn't be termed 'genocide' and if this isn't genocide, I don't know what it is. That reminds me of another recent sad story - Darfur, Sudan. Again, the first world countries and the UN turned a blind eye as trained militia went of a life-hungry rampage. I've read cover stories about the active role played by USA and UN in African countries - it's really uplifiting. During the Rwandan genocide, a Pentagon bastard joked "Is it Hutu or Tutu?" I know that if something goes wrong in Nigeria, high level meetings will actively take place because it's the eighth largest exporter of oil. So much for world peace!!

This cinema is about respecting another human being. This cinema is a showcase of the horror due to the unnecessarily deep-rooted distinctions based on caste, race, tribe, etc. This cinema is an attempt to shame the U.N and the first world countries for their callousness. This cinema is a reminder of the value of life. From an artistic viewpoint, this is a very good cinema. From a historic viewpoint, this is an important cinema. 'Hotel Rwanda' must be shown in the UN general assembly for a packed audience who call themselves diplomats. If this doesn't put them to shame, I don't know what will.

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