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Thursday, April 28, 2005

Hotel Rwanda

At last steeled myself to take out the Rwanda DVD and watch Don Cheadle's stunning performance as hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina.

I was in Hong Kong in 1994, preparing to move my family in good time lest the 1997 hand over to Mother China go uneasily for supporters of democracy. The Hutu/Tutsi conflict seemed geographically distant while emotionally all too close to one or two more extreme nightmares of my own.

The movie was not easy to watch and the flawless acting simply made it easier for me to writhe in helpless rage.

Two scenes stand out, of course:.

Relief troops have arrived, everyone believes the day saved. Rusesabagina sees the resident UN officer (Nick Nolte playing a Canadian) exchange brief words with the military commander, then hurl his blue beret to the ground in disgust. PR follows Oliver into the hotel bar where he offers him a celebratory drink.

Scene 2: Hotel staff listening to a news broadcast.

At which point the radio is turned off in disgust.

Before watching, I did some recapitulatory homework on the genocide.

The genocide was not a killing machine that rolled inexorably forward but rather a campaign to which participants were recruited over time by the use of threat and incentives. The early organizers included military and administrative officials as well as politicians, businessmen, and others with no official posts. In order to carry through the genocide, they had to capture the state, which meant not just installing persons of their choice at the head of the government, but securing the collaboration of other officials throughout the system.

As the new leaders were consolidating control over military commanders, they profited enormously from the first demonstration of international timidity. U.N. troops, in Rwanda under the terms of the peace accords, tried for a few hours to keep the peace, then withdrew to their posts—as ordered by superiors in New York—leaving the local population at the mercy of assailants. Officers opposed to Bagosora realized that a continuing foreign presence was essential to restricting the killing campaign and appealed to representatives of France, Belgium and the U.S. not to desert Rwanda. But, suspecting the kind of horrors to come, the foreigners had already packed their bags. An experienced and well-equipped force of French, Belgian, and Italian troops rushed in to evacuate the foreigners, and then departed. U.S. Marines dispatched to the area stopped in neighboring Burundi once it was clear that U.S.citizens would be evacuated without their help. The first impression of international indifference to the fate of Rwandans was confirmed soon after, when the Belgians began arranging for the withdrawal of their troops from the U.N. peacekeeping force. Ten of these soldiers, a contingent different from those of the evacuation expedition, had been slain and, as the organizers of the violence had anticipated, the Belgian government did not want to risk any further casualties.

I also happened across the Human Rights Watch Rwanda report.

What distressed me most was the feeling of helplessness, of shame - of wanting to lash out at someone. But even to 100 degrees of separation, all our hands were on the tolling bell; we all pulled out.

Now we have Darfur, whose Rights Watch report is not easy to read without hanging ones head in shame. Come the movie, Nick Nolte will again hurl his beret to the ground and storm off for a stiff one before delivering *that* Speech.

These things go in circles. It's not just a wrecked eco system we could be handing our grandchildren.

Mood Adjuster: Well, you can't say that pointy-capped Life doesn't dish the best scripts - or post-scripts, in this case - so as to have the last laff and keep the rest of us from getting too heavy.

Having bashed out my solemn review and filed the Kleenex back with the patchouli and viagra, I set off to return the DVD to Silver Screen by way of Safeway for provisions. Come check out I was explaining that the DVD was from the 'other place' but Jodee knows me and had seen it and asked me what I thought. Before i could pronounce, the bagger youth - a new face to me, fashionably flat of tum and moussed of thatch - spoke up, "'Hotel Rwanda'? Yeah, good for what it is." I give him my 'look'.

"Good," I say, "but disturbing,"

"Yeah, like I said, good for what it is."

"Good for *what* is?" I inquire, feeling my nostrils pinch. "It's good - very good - *and* it's also disturbing."

My groceries are bagged and we are holding up the next in line.

"All I'm saying," he says, "is that it's good for what sort of movie it is. Like, I'm not getting heavy."

"Well," I huff, sounding ominously like my aunt Daphne, "I'd have thought this was exactly the sort of film *to* get heavy about."

I have lost the battle and walk away with what dignity I have left. High in the firmanent sounds the distinct trill of seraphim giggles, celestial high fives and the basso profundo chuckle of a Very Important Personage.

"That'll teach him. Moody creep."

just mildly curious...why Safeway over T&C?
nearer to me
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