Sunday, April 08, 2007

Sometimes in April

2005, US, directed by Raoul Peck

Made for HBO television, Raoul Peck's examination of the 1994 Rwandan genocide is a powerful piece of work that goes well beyond the rather sanitised version of events presented by Terry George's undoubtedly worthy but finally uneven Hotel Rwanda; Peck's television film has proved controversial enough that releasing the film, in any venue, in France has thus far been problematic, with continuing investigations into the actions of the French military during the genocide. Peck, though, tends to focus more explicitly on the failings of the US, with several sequences depicting the inter-institutional debates between the Pentagon, State Department, and White House that led nowhere (as one character notes, the lack of action proved that the "system worked", a comment also made by a Clinton administration official); the film opens, pointedly, with an apology from President Clinton, an apology that sounds especially hollow when heard in a Rwandan classroom (references to France are much less explicit, though there's a brief shot with a portrait of François Mitterrand that appears at a crucial point in the film).

Unlike Hotel Rwanda, Peck broadens the focus beyond one worthy man, telling multiple stories that frequently leave the main characters - a pair of brothers, one a moderate Hutu, the other a journalist on Radio Mille Collines, one of the main sources of genocidal propaganda - behind for long stretches of time, though the use of the device of the two brothers also proves a useful method of contrasting the two sides in what was ultimately the most vicious of civil conflicts. Peck doesn't shirk from depicting some of the atrocities that were routinised over the course of three terrifyingly brutal months (and makes clear that one of the most dreadful experiences of all was the immense task of cleaning up after the killers had moved on); it's also not hard to see the film as a commentary on lesser episodes of hate in other countries, including his own native Haiti. Peck shows a particular interest in issues of reconciliation, both at the level of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (in Arusha, Tanzania), and especially the Gacaca, the community justice courts developed to deal with the tens of thousands of people accused of "lesser" crimes; the scenes which show the operation of these courts are especially effective, as the country tries to come to terms with the immensity and consequences of events barely a decade in the past.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States