Friday, April 18, 2008

Rwanda: Film Review - Beyond the Gates

Beyond the Gates is a film about the Rwandan genocide. It adds fictional characters to a real incident in order to create a story line that accurately portrays the horror of the genocide itself, but with emphasis on the stark moral dilemmas faced by westerners in the face of that evil.

The setting is Ecole Technique in Kigali where an elderly priest (played by John Hurt) and Christopher, an idealistic young Englishman (Hugh Dancy), are working in the weeks prior to the social cataclysm. Viewers see preparations for genocide via a slimy local councilman who makes lists of Tutsi families and checks on the small UN peacekeeping detachment housed at the school. When the troubles begin, the priest knows that hundreds of Tutsi will seek refuge behind his gates both because of the ostensible protection of the church in times of trial and on account of the real protection afforded by the peacekeepers.

The Tutsi come by the thousands as do several dozen Europeans. As the genocide unfolds beyond the gates the protagonists each venture out on errands of mercy only to discover the horror that awaits. Friendships are betrayed. Ethnic madness rules. Gangs of Interahamwe killers prance and chant and butcher. Meanwhile the issue of why the killings and why the indifference of the peacekeepers to it play out center stage. Ultimately, French troops arrive at the school, but only to evacuate the Europeans. The Belgian peacekeepers are ordered out shortly thereafter leaving the priest and teacher to their choices and Africans to their fates.

I (the reviewer) served as U.S. ambassador to Rwanda in the years just after the genocide. This film, which was shot in Rwanda and involved survivors of the Ecole Technique massacre, does accurately reflect the overall sense of doom during the execution of genocide. Yet, the story line is set up so as to highlight western shortcomings and frustrations in face of the killings rather than Rwandan ones. Identifying with the principle characters, viewers see the issues in understandable terms. Perhaps that is as it should be because we all need to reflect upon this catastrophe. Be aware that this is wrenching drama that contains some graphic scenes.

Other films about the genocide include: Ghosts of Rwanda (a documentary), Hotel Rwanda, Sometimes in April and the recently released Shake Hands with the Devil. The latter film is a cinematic treatment of General Dallaire’s (the UN Peacekeeping Force commander) book of the same name. It is a powerful drama, well acted and shot in Rwanda. It makes the case that the west – especially the UN Security Council – did not authorize actions to halt the genocide because it did not view the crisis as severe.

Note that Beyond the Gates, a 20th Century Fox film, was released eariler by the BBC as Shooting Dogs.

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