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Hotel Rwanda

Movies | Despite strong language and horrific violence, this film is a convicting yet uplifting entry point into the genocide that left 800,000 dead

Issue: "Bush: Hail to the chief," Jan. 29, 2005

There's a peculiar kind of arrogance among American liberals that wants to make every world conflict somehow about them. Or, perhaps, not about them, but about their ignorant, heartless fellow Westerners.

Thankfully, Hotel Rwanda (rated PG-13 on appeal for violence, disturbing images, and brief strong language) is not that kind of film. It doesn't let the world community off easily for doing nothing to stop the genocidal horror that swept Rwanda in the 1990s. But the West's inaction doesn't become the focus of the film. What happened in Rwanda is too great a tragedy for its story to become more about us than them.

Director and co-writer Terry George instead finds an ideal center for his film, some meager ray of hope in the chaos, in the heroic form of Paul Rusesabagina (wonderfully played by Golden Globe nominee Don Cheadle).

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Hotel Rwanda's true story begins in 1994, just before the massacre began. At the time, Mr. Rusesabagina worked as house manager at the Hotel de Mille Collines, a four-star resort under Belgian management in the capital city of Kigali. There, he hobnobbed with local generals, wealthy tourists, and United Nations officials. A charming, sincere man, Mr. Rusesabagina curried favor through diligent service and an occasional gift of fine cigars or scotch. That favor would come in handy when his hotel became a refuge for more than 1,200 men, women, and children at the height of the violence.

The violence in Rwanda grew out of resentment held by the Hutus toward the Tutsis, a tribe at one time aligned with the country's Belgian colonizers. In 1994, a growing political movement among the Hutus burst forth with widespread calls to exterminate the Tutsis.

Mr. Rusesabagina is a Hutu; his wife, a Tutsi. However, until pressed, he was uninvolved in the conflict. The good will he was storing up among the powerful was for his family alone.

But as Westerners fled from the Hotel de Mille Collines, leaving it in Mr. Rusesabagina's control, it became clear that he held the keys to one of the country's few safe havens. Mr. Rusesabagina moved his wife and children into the hotel, and soon many others followed-families and orphans, both Hutus and Tutsis. Remarkably, Mr. Rusesabagina kept them all safe, leaning on every connection he could, playing on greed, shame, and fear.

The violence in the film is horrific, and the film should be rated R due to several instances of strong, bad language and images of death that will be with audiences long after the movie ends-but that's not to suggest that Hotel Rwanda is to be avoided. The genocide in Rwanda left more than 800,000 dead, and Mr. Rusesabagina's story of courage is a convicting yet uplifting entry point for Western audiences into the tragedy.

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