As Rwanda descends into genocide in 1994, as Hutus slashe to death thousands of Tutzis, the manager of the Belgian owned Milles Collines 4-star hotel in Kigali, Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), sets out to protect his wife and children - and as the murderous gangs close in, he ends up saving and protecting over 1200 people. He bribes the militia commander when necessary, he tells him tall tales about American spy satellites seeing everything and does anything he can to maintain some sort of protection to keep the Hutus away. Meanwhile, the West is sending planes - but only evacuate their white citizens. The United Nations peacekeeper force, led by Colonel Oliver (Nick Nolte) is powerless.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The tagline promoting the film is "When the world closed its eyes, he opened his arms..." and for all its glib oversimplification, it's a pithy introduction to the story of Hotel Rwanda and Paul Rusesabagina. Terry George has told the true story of one man, set against an avoidable, contemporary genocide and he has done it with a minimum of brutal carnage. I suspect he was afraid it would make the film too hard to watch - for the wrong reasons. It still is hard to watch, but for the right reasons.
The script is economical yet complete and written with advice from the real Paul Rusesabagina; we are reminded of the role, or non-role, of the West in helping Rwanda, from the United Nations (Useless Nations?) to the various countries who had the power to act: the US, UK, France (which had been supplying arms to the Hutus) and the rest. We are also reminded of the meaninglessness of the division between Hutus and Tutsis; it's an imaginary tribal distinction, a deadly inheritance from the Belgian occupation.
There is a telling moment when UN peacekeeping force Colonel Oliver is about to deliver bad news to Paul, and Paul is thanking him for his help. Oliver says, almost in tears, "You should spit in my face..." as he explains that Rwanda is worthless to the West, and no troops are being sent to safeguard the Tutsis from the machetes of the Hutus. Nick Nolte looks sick delivering the line, and I would not be surprised if he felt it.
Paul Rusesabagina is not painted as a simplistic hero figure; he is frightened and desperate, but also resourceful and intelligent. Don Cheadle portrays him as a caring family man, with the same priorities that can be found in Geelong or Gibraltar. And while the film is centred on his courageous deeds in saving and protecting hundreds of lives, it keeps him in context of the big picture. There is not a moment in the film when we are disengaged or uninvolved; the deadly menace of the Hutus and the corrupt militia, the helplessness of the bystanders and the vigour of the will to survive are all captured with sizzling sincerity.
The astonishing thing is we are left with a sense of human dignity and courage, and the evil of tribal/racial/ethnic hatred seems unable to overcome that. It's a moving and provocative film that deserves a wide audience. It will prompt questions about what triggers our compassion, coming in the wake of the tsunami in the Indian Ocean.
The irony of the film's funding sources being the US, UK, Italy and South Africa - an international effort - should not escape us; if only there was as much co-operation in the United Nations when Rwanda needed it.
Review by Louise Keller:
Having experienced similar, or certainly parallel experiences during the Independence of the Congo when the parental ties from Belgium were severed, I found Hotel Rwanda a profoundly affecting experience. The tragedy of human conflict that has plagued the continent of Africa for decades erupted in Rwanda in 1994 with a genocide in which nearly one million were killed. The world at large ignored the events offering no aid, and leaving the Hutu extremists to slaughter the Tutsis with machetes and hatred. There is little to prepare us for the sobering reality of this time, when massacres and madness brought the country to a standstill. Hotel Rwanda is a confronting and often disturbing film that gives an acute sense of the time and place, yet reminds us that courage and decency can shine through at the bleakest moments.
A project of passion from filmmaker Terry George, who co-wrote the script with Keir Pearson, Hotel Rwanda takes place in the country's capital Kigali, in the four star Hotel des Milles Collines (Hotel of a thousand hills). It's the story of Hutu hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), who is left in charge after Rwandan President Habyarimana is assassinated and foreign governments evacuate their citizens, leaving Rwandans to the mercy of the chaos of the ensuing conflict. Cheadle embraces the role of an ordinary man who finds the strength and cunning to save over a thousand civilians from slaughter in the hotel.
We quickly get a sense of what kind of man is Paul Rusesabagina. A devoted family man, Paul is careful to massage his relationships with high-powered contacts he has made through the hotel, but is only interested in using them in the event of dire need. Very quickly, that need becomes exposed, and soon he is bartering for the lives of hundreds of refugees who have found their way to the hotel. Quick on his feet, he uses bluff and his imagination to save their lives, as it is clear that no intervention from other countries is on its way. Protecting his wife Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo) and his children, there are heart-wrenching scenes as Paul makes a pact with Tatiana, making her promise that she will jump to her death from the roof of the hotel with their children, should he be killed. 'We must not die before our children,' he vows. A convoy by road led by Nick Nolte's Colonel Oliver goes horribly wrong and the streets are littered with thousands of slain bodies. Nolte brings gravitas to the role, and there are welcome appearances by Joaquin Phoenix as a foreign cameraman, and Jean Reno as the Belgian hotel owner, whose helplessness and horror is a mirror to our own emotions.
There are unforgettable and haunting images of frightened children and the many innocents who are the true victims. We feel real terror as we are surrounded by mobs intoxicated by violence, intent to kill. We are swept away by the helplessness and the intensity of the atrocities around us. It is impossible not to be affected by George's film, which takes us in close up to the country and the people.
Hotel Rwanda is a well-made and powerful drama that shows how one man can make a difference, even when the evils and horrors around him appear unsurmountable.
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HOTEL RWANDA (M)
(Canada / UK / Italy / South Africa)
CAST: Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Joaquin Phoenix, Nick Nolte, Desmond Dube, David O'Hara, Cara Seymour and Jean Reno
PRODUCER: A. Kitman Ho, Terry George
DIRECTOR: Terry George
SCRIPT: Keir Pearson & Terry George
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert Fraisse
EDITOR: Naomi Geraghty
MUSIC: Andrea Guerra, Rupert Gregson-Williams, Fro Celt Sound System
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Tony Burrough, Johnny Breedt
RUNNING TIME: 121 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 24, 2005