Harry Potter!
Cinema Signal:
Shake Hands with the Devil:
The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda

. "Hotel Rwanda"

The genocide that occurred in Rwanda in 1994 while the rest of the world turned its head away is a story that needs to be told. Instead of employing a straight documentary style, which would consist of interviews of survivors, government and U.N. officials and visits to mass graves, writer Terry George opts for a dramatized recreation of the events.

With a sharp eye for casting, he puts a charming, straight-ahead Don Cheadle in the central role as Paul Rusesabagina, the manager of the posh Hotel Mille Collines that remains, for a time, off limits to the rising hatred between the two tribes of the country. But, as things deteriorate and the roads become carpetted with bodies of dead Tutsus, his job is to maintain the sanctity of the hotel and safety of his "guests," as they transition from wealthy Europeans to local survivors. He uses every ploy and bribe at his disposal to buy lives and supplies until the money in the safe is gone.

Working closely with the commander of the U.N. forces (Nick Nolte), in contact with the hotel's owner (Jean Reno) and local warlords, he hides desperation behind a facade of cool intellect, charm and resourceful judgement while balancing the dangers to his beloved wife Tatiana (lovely Sophie Okonedo) and children against all the rest whose lives hang in the balance. Ultimately, the refugees dependent on this Hutu man's protection number 800.

Cheadle's portrayal of a steady hand in a vortex of hate and human decimation is an admirable model for courage and leadership. He is resolute and consistent as a skilled negotiator and businessman with a decency that is soul deep. All his cunning and containment, qualities once applied to the vagaries of running a multi-star hotel for the rich in a backwater holiday destination are turned with similar competence to matters of instant life or death. The portrayal conveys the despair of the circumstances while providing a rallying point of objective-subjective perspective.

While "Hotel Rwanda" dramatically exposes the tide of evil power that overtook this country, the central figure of Paul Rusesabagina being so essentially successful in dealing with his corrupt faction leaders and keeping his hotel so bloodless and undamaged suggests a cleanup of what the real situation must have been like. There is a line of horror the film doesn't cross, so as to preserve a product consumable by moviegoers. We don't, after all, need to see someone's head chopped off to get the idea.

Sterilized though it may be, this may well be the ideal conveyance for some understanding of what it meant to those who suffered such atrocities there and of the shame the world should feel for standing by while it happened.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Sophie Okonedo and Don Cheadle
Observing the unimaginable
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