Posted on Tuesday, February 15th, 2011 by Germain Lussier
Note: Though Sundance ended several weeks ago, /Film reader Thomas Oliver alerted us that a movie he produced, Kinyarwanda, won the World Cinema Audience Award at the festival. Since none of us got around to seeing it, we figured it was worth taking a slightly-belated look at. Here’s the review.
In the past decade, winners of the World Cinema Audience Award, Dramatic, at the Sundance Film Festival include An Education, Once, Brothers and Whale Rider. Kinyarwanda continues in their tradition of simple storytelling done with skill and emotion. Written and directed by Alrick Brown, the film weaves together several different stories during the 1994 Rwandan genocide that was most famously portrayed in the 2004 Oscar nominee Hotel Rwanda.
The difference here, though, is that Kinyarwanda feels much more personal and intimate. That’s also its biggest flaw. Brown concentrates so acutely on each character and the links between them, it’s easy to forget the enormity of the situation at hand. But maybe that’s what the film is about. Maybe it’s less about the horrors of genocide and more about the appreciation and heroism that can come out of it.
For the entire first half of Kinyarwanda, the film introduces several sets of seemingly separate characters. There’s a young couple, a religious family, a couple priests, a pair of soldiers and a whole slew of men seen ten years after the genocide. Each of these stories certainly pique your interest but, as each gets introduced over almost an hour, you almost get the feeling like the film will have to rush to link them all together before the end.
And it does end up feeling a little rushed, but not necessarily in a bad way. The best thing in Kinyarwanda is how Brown’s screenplay links all these compelling characters together in ways we never expected. Sometimes it’s just with a subtle cut away or duplication of a shot from earlier in the film. Other times it’s much bigger. As the film nears its conclusion, though, we’re so focused on connecting the dots, it’s almost easy to forget about the horrors surrounding these people. The genocide is always prevalent – it’s the driving force for all their actions – but it’s never as emotionally sustaining as the characters. Even some of the most important deaths, when deconstructed over the course of the story, aren’t as emotionally shattering as they surely were for the characters because they feel like a means to an end.
But even with those issues of pacing and gravitas, Brown’s message comes across loud and clear. This was a horrible moment in Rwandan history but, the past is the past. The survivors need to look for any light that can come out of the darkness. And that’s how I feel about Kinyarwanda, the positives far outweigh any negatives.
/Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10