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Return to 2006 Films

Index of 2006

An Inconvenient Truth
Big Bad Swim
Brokeback Mountain
Cinderella Man
The Departed
The DaVinci Code
Eron: The Smartest
Guys in the Room

Good Night and
Good Luck

Half Nelson
History of Violence
Hotel Rwanda
Little Miss Sunshine
Journey from the Fall
March of the Penguins
Million Dollar Baby
Prairie Home Companion
Star Wars III:
Revenge of the Sith

Thank You for Smoking
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
The Sea Inside
United 93
War of the Worlds
Walk the Line
World Trade Center

Hotel Rwanda
A Review by Tom Condon, OP
(St. Martin Province)


Based on the true story of a Rwandan hotel manager who sheltered over 1,000 people during the country's genocide. Cheadle, who plays the hotel manager, says the film had to find a careful balance between depicting massacres and telling a heroic family story.

Not knowing I’d be writing regularly for domlife.org until a week ago, I had not prepared a review of Hotel Rwanda.. I saw it two months ago, but wrote nothing at the time. Yet the experience remains with me, and it’s too important a film to ignore.

As most people know by now, Hotel Rwanda is the powerful story of the genocide in the African nation of Rwanda in 1994. The Hutus seized power and massacred the Tutsi tribe, as well as sympathetic Hutus. Approximately one million people were killed.

The film tells the story through the eyes of a real life character, Paul Rusesabagina, (Don Cheadle), manager of a luxury hotel patronized mainly by foreign visitors from the West. Paul, his wife Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo), and children live a comfortable life when violence breaks out. Soon they are living at the hotel, along with hundreds of others, when the Westerners have fled.

Hotel Rwanda has been frequently compared to Schindler’s List. Paul, like Oscar Schindler, does whatever he can to protect the refugees at the hotel. Paul provides the Hutu military leaders with money and liquor. At first, Paul entertains them, and, as time goes on, begs for them to be saved. Even though hundreds of thousands die, Paul manages the hundreds at the hotel by his initiative, fast thinking, courage, and sheer determination. It’s a remarkable feat in every respect.

It’s not an easy film to watch. Early in the story, Paul and his friends assume the Western powers will intervene and stop the massacre. With the exception of sending in some UN Peacekeeping troops, with orders not to shoot anyone, the West does little. Hundreds of thousands die, and Western nations largely ignore the situation. If this had happened decades ago, and was an isolated instance, I could feel better. Yet, in our own time, thousands die in the Sudan. What have we learned? How do we react? How do I educate myself about the situation in African nations? How do I seek to raise awareness in others? Am I too consumed with issues closer to home to think about the sufferings of people far away?

Another disturbing aspect of the film is the systematic way the Hutus dehumanize the Tutsis by calling them “cockroaches.” They dehumanized the other, as the Nazis dehumanized the Jews. As we in our own country dehumanized African Americans, buying and selling them as property. It’s a lot easier to ignore, to blame, to deprive of rights, to torture and kill, when they’re not really human, isn’t it? I’m reminded of the ghastly photos and videos from the Iraqi prisons as I write. As brothers and sisters in the Word, we must remember the power of the words we use.

When I talk about movies like Hotel Rwanda, inevitably I encounter those who tell me they don’t see movies like this. “They’re too depressing.” “They’re too violent” (actually Hotel Rwanda is rather restrained in its violence). “I go to movies that entertain. I see enough bad news on TV.” The power of Hotel Rwanda is that it draws the viewer into the story. We see the atrocities through the terrified eyes of Paul and Tatiana, who can scarcely believe what they see. We are no longer distant observers. When Paul steps out of a jeep off a foggy road and finds himself in a sea of bodies, the viewer recoils in horror as he does. The visual images, performances (Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo received much deserved Oscar nominations), and screenplay take us where we would never venture on our own.

Hotel Rwanda is one of those rare movies that demands to be seen. It may still be showing by the time you read this. If not, I’m sure it will be available on DVD soon. It’s a great movie to watch as a community, parish, high school, youth group, or campus ministry. It will disturb you, but, at the same time, offer hope and inspiration. Thank God that, even in the most hellish of times, there are heroes like Paul and Tatiana, leading us into the way of peace.

Tom Condon, OP

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