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A little piece of perspective

Shauna Farnell
Special to the DailyPaul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), right, and his wife, Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo) watch out their door as the slaughter begins in their neighborhood in "Hotel Rwanda."
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Walking out of the theater after seeing “Hotel Rwanda,” the presence of pine trees covered with little white Christmas lights, a parking lot full of $50,000 sports utility vehicles and the general ostentatiousness of a winter ski resort made me wonder how I got so lucky.The most dangerous dilemma I face on a regular basis is finding mice in my studio apartment or wondering if, between purchasing a new pair of ski gloves or a bike helmet, I’ll be able to pay rent each month. Meanwhile, a significant percentage of the world’s population wakes up every day wondering if it’s going to be killed. The startling reminder of this imbalance of fate made me seasick after seeing this film.

I live in a place where a good many people don’t know where Rwanda is, much less that almost a million people were brutally slaughtered there just over 10 years ago.”Hotel Rwanda” has been compared to “Schindler’s List,” which, as most of us know, recounts the atrocities of the holocaust. Both films are similar in that, while sad and disturbing, their main focus is on a small group of genocide survivors rather than on the thousands in the backdrop who are piled into mass graves, or in the case of “Hotel Rwanda,” strewn all over the country’s roads. From an artistic standpoint, I can see how this is the only way to market awareness of these realities. At least it gives people a vague idea of what life is like outside of this golden dome we live under called The West.From director Terry George, (“In the Name of the Father”), “Hotel Rwanda” relays the true story of Paul Rusesabagina – the manager of a Belgian-owned, four-star hotel in Rwanda – who housed more than 1,200 refugees when a militia group overran the country in 1994. In reality, the group has since fled to the Congo, where it is estimated to consist of 15,000 armed Hutus, and, according to CNN and The Associated Press, to this day still rapes, pillages, and massacres at will in Congolese villages.

The Hutu tribe is the most prevalent race in Rwanda, and in 1994, this militia group killed the president and sought to wipe out all Tutsi descendants – every man, woman and child coming from the minority tribe, as well as all of the Hutus who didn’t support the cause. Don Cheadle (“Traffic”) plays Rusesabagina, and despite the weak script, does a phenomenal job. At one point in the film, Rusesabagina, who is a Hutu, but whose wife and family are Tutsi, ponders over what propels individuals to acts of genocide. Shaking his head, he offers, “meanness” and “insanity” – both key ingredients, one would think – before the scene spills into another corrupt Rwandan soldier agreeing to protect the hotel only after a substantial enough bribe is offered, or where the Belgian hotel owner puts an imploring Rusesabagina on hold so he can call somebody in the French government, who allegedly supplied weapons to the militia group, to request that the hotel’s “guests” – the refugees – not be sliced to death by machetes.Colonel Oliver (Nick Nolte) gives us a glimpse of the inconsistencies, hypocrisies and flaws within the United Nations, while Jack the breaking news photographer (Joaquin Phoenix) demonstrates the media’s personal tug-o-war between the misguided glory of “great” massacre footage and a helpless sense of remorse for its insensitive role in the situation. Jack, who is among the group of white people at the hotel, the first and only group to be safely evacuated when the massacre breaks out, has the one line in the film that is sure to hit home the hardest for we white Americans. When Rusesabagina thanks him for capturing the footage of Rwandan villagers being hacked and tortured so that the Western world will be informed of what’s happening, Jack points out that people who see it will look up at the TV and experience a fleeting moment of shock and horror before continuing to eat their dinners.



In a similar vein, I couldn’t persuade a single colleague to accompany me to see “Hotel Rwanda.” Genocide flicks, after all, are not typically anyone’s choice entertainment. Still, for those of you looking for a little perspective, you’ll have a whole new sense of bliss – albiet with a hint of guilt – when you get onto the chair lift the next morning.Staff Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or sfarnell@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado


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