Monday, March 21, 2005

Sometimes in April

Yesterday I posted Raquel Cepeda's AP question-and-answer transcipt with actor Idris Elba to call attention to his work as an actor in general, and to his current role in the Raoul Peck film "Sometimes in April," which I saw tonight. If you have access to HBO East or West, I strongly urge you to see it, but I will say that it's far more graphic and saddening than "Hotel Rwanda," which was a tragic and moving film. Telling the story of two Hutu brothers (Elba is soldier Augustin Muganza, who married a Tutsi woman and had three children, while Oris Erhuero is Honoré Muganza, a radio DJ who helped to fan the flames of ethnic rage) who found themselves on opposite sides of the 1994 genocide, "Sometimes in April" explores the roots of the tragedy in Rwanda's colonial history and the inaction of the West as nearly 1 million people were murdered. Its incisive pacing and cross-cutting narrative structure, its chronotopic authenticity and verisimilitude (it's the first movied on the 1994 massacres filmed on the sites in Rwanda where they took place) wrench you out of emotional complacency.

As I watched, sometimes having to turn away from the screen because of the brutal events portrayed (though the film mostly avoided gore), I kept asking myself, how on earth do we as human beings allow these kinds of tragedies to occur? Why? Why do we value human lives so little that so many of us would either participate in the oppression and slaughter of those around us, because of some perceived or real difference (in race, ethnicity, sexual orientation religion, language, social class, and so on), or, as horrible, why do so many of us sit by silently and not speak out?

I cried more than once while watching this film, and I thank director Raoul Peck, the outstanding cast of actors (especially Elba, Erhuero, Debra Winger, and others, including the hundreds of Rwandan extras), and HBO Films for making this movie possible.

If you haven't seen Raoul Peck's 2001 feature film Lumumba, I highly recommend it. Though it's primarily a historical biopic on the late Congelese liberation hero and leader, it opens up a window onto the history of early post-colonial Africa, and the Cold War's (and in particular the US's) role in the failed politics that have plagued so many African nations since the 1960s. I also highly recommend Peck's excellent documentary, Lumumba, la mort du prophéte (Lumumba: Death of a Prophet), which appeared in 1992 and won the Procirep Prize, Festival du Réel and Best Documentary at the Montreal Film Festival.

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