Sunday, July 13, 2008

Munyurangabo - a long slow look at Rwanda

It’s a tough life being a film-maker. You want to get a point across, to make something with artistic merit, to express yourself – but you also have to keep your audience happy and entertained. And when many of us have grown up watching films with Spielbergesque happy endings – we like to leave the cinema with a smile on our face. But it demeans some subjects to treat them like this.

Don’t expect any happy endings in Munyurangabo, don’t even expect it to be softened by romance (Blood Diamond) or inspirational aid workers (The Last King of Scotland). Munyurangabo is about the lasting impact of the Rwandan genocide on her people – both Tutsis and Hutus.

Director Lee Isaac Chung was inspired to make the film after working at an aid camp in Rwanda, and I suspect he wanted us to take a long slow look at a situation he would have lived with daily. We watch uncomfortably long stills and slow paced dialogue. At times it feels like a reel of documentary that hasn’t been edited yet. The lack of action and simple plot give us plenty of time to dwell on the unsaid. What the film doesn’t say is more powerful than what it does.

But I don’t believe you can call long slow shots intrinsically poignant – for me none of the characters were likeable enough for me to really care about them personally – instead I felt that familiar hopeless feeling that arises when I contemplate Africa, combined with pity.

Watch out for the poet who delivers the only hope in the film in his poem in Kinyarwanda (Rwandan language).

Both I and the person next to me left slightly confused by the ending – not sure what we had seen in the final moments, or what the meaning was. It could have been one of two things in my mind – either with a message to deliver. Maybe it was supposed to be ambiguous – or maybe I missed the point.

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