“How can they not intervene when they witness such atrocities?” Rwandan hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) asks an American journalist (Joaquin Phoenix). “They’ll see this footage,” he answers. “They’ll say ‘Oh my god, that’s horrible,” and go on eating their dinners.”
Rusesabagina was a manager at a luxury hotel, the man who always knew what it took to smooth things along. A bottle of scotch here, a charming compliment there — this was not just business for him. It was insurance. The political situation was about to explode. Two ethnic groups, the nomadic Tutsis (also known as Watutsis) and the agricultural Hutus had been pitted against each other by the white Belgian settlers, who literally measured skin tone and nose width to elevate the Tutsis to preferred positions. When the conflict exploded into violence in 1994, the Hutus began a full-scale slaughter of over 800,000 Tutsis and any Hutus who supported them. At one point in the movie, two characters are driving at night over what they think is a bumpy road. It turns out that they are driving over piles of bodies.
In the middle of the madness, Rusesabagina hid more than 1000 Tutsis in his hotel. Using the same skills that made him successful as a hotel manager, he cajoles, barters, and bluffs his way into keeping them safe. He keeps hoping for help from the UN or the US, but, as the journalist said, they went on eating their dinners.
Cheadle is infinitely moving as Rusesabagina and Sophie Okonedo is quietly magnificent as his wife. The sensitivity of their performances is matched by the script and direction, which make their points, both personal and political, with grace, not bitterness. Like Schindler’s List, this film takes us deeply into the horror of one of the 20th century’s greatest tragedies by allowing us to focus on the illumination cast by one small story of grace, courage, and humanity.
Parents should know that the movie includes realistic, though mostly non-graphic depiction of genocide and compellingly portrays the sense of horror and insanity. Characters drink, smoke, and use some mild language.
Families who see this movie should learn more about the slaughter in Rwanda and how the role of the UN and other nations is determined. The CIA Factbook and Rwanda Information Exchange, and PBS site about the Hutu/Tutsi conflict provide some basic facts and this site has information about the international criminal trials. What countries are behaving inhumanely now? What can we do about it? Families should talk about the way that an ordinary man became capable of extraordinary courage. How do we know what we would do? How do we make sure we do the right thing?
Families who appreciate this movie will also appreciate Schindler’s List and Z. They should also read this interview with the director and the real-life Paul Rusesabagina.