Movie Review: “Kinyarwanda”

Published by Clay Cane on Tuesday, December 13, 2011 at 2:00 pm.

(Photo: Courtesy Blok Box IMG)

Summary: Six Interconnecting stories about the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

Review: There have been many films on the horrific 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The most memorable is Idris Elba in 2005’s Sometimes in April from HBO (Ishmael Ntihabose, who was the executive producer of Kinyarwanda, worked on Sometimes in April) and of course the Oscar-nominated Hotel Rwanda.

Most films and docs on Rwanda are soaked in bloodshed, nightmarish images and terror that rival horror films.  The Rwandans are framed as berzerk savages with no conscience. Although it wouldn’t seem possible — considering the crimes are extreme and the explanations are still unfathomable — Kinyarwanda humanized the genocide on celluloid with a nuanced script and powerhouse actors.

For those who say, “I don’t want to see another movie on Rwanda with dead bodies and machetes beheading people!”  I promise you, this is not Kinyarwanda (named after Rwanda’s most commonly-spoken language). Written and directed by Alrick Brown, the film is more human than bloody and more soulful than violent. This could be why it was named the 2011 Sundance Film Festival winner for the Audience Award in the World Cinema Drama category.

Unlike most films on the genocide, Kinyarwanda was created by Rwandans.  Therefore, there is an insider and authentic perspective — many of the cast and crew were Rwandans. It’s one of those movie-going experiences where you wonder if it’s a documentary and you’re Googling the actors as the credits roll.

The entire cast shined, but a stand-out was Cassandra Freeman as Lieutenant Rose.  Freeman had a riveting presence on screen, playing a lieutenant seeking peace and later redemption for “criminals” of the genocide. But the home-run performance was from Edourd Bamporiki as Emmanuel, a Hutu man who killed many, including his Tutsi neighbors. Bamporiki delivered a haunting monologue in his native tongue. With all of the award buzz around Viola Davis in The Help, Brad Pitt in Moneyball and others — know this, Bamporiki’s is, effortlessly, one of the best performances of 2011.

All respect to Alrick Brown for giving audiences a fresh take on the Rwandan genocide. In a movie that was shot in 16 days, viewers will be educated and moved.  Hopefully, from the director to the cast, a new flock of international Black filmmakers and actors are born.

Kinyarwanda is distributed via Ava DuVernay’s AAFRM (African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement).  The film is currently playing in New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Seattle.

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