"A Very Long Engagement" and "Hotel Rwanda": Some Thoughts
I finally saw A Very Long Engagement and was knocked out. It is a spellbinding movie, exquisitely shot by Bruno Delbonnel and, like Martin Scorsese's The Aviator, reveling in an almost giddy love of cinema's visuals possibilities. Based on a wildly popular French novel by Jean-Baptiste Rossi, the tale concerns a young woman (Audrey Tautou) and her refusal to believe that her fiance actually died on the battlefield in World War I. Although the movie is vivid in its depiction of wartime carnage, this isn't exactly an anti-war film -- or, if it is, its sheer beauty likely undermines that theme.
No matter. Essentially, A Very Long Engagement is a powerful love story about faith and hope. Director Jean-Pierre Jeunot, as he did in 2001's Amelie, fills the screen with quirky characters and even quirkier asides, eye-popping set pieces and Tautou's bewitching and mischievous smile. Critic Stephen Hunter gets it right in his Washington Post review.
By contrast, Hotel Rwanda is deadly serious in what it has to say about humanity's most vile impulses. Director-writer Terry George lacks Jeunot's show-off artistry, and that is all to the good. Such no-frills restraint captures the real-life heroics of Rwandan hotelier Paul Rusesabagina and his efforts in 1994 to save more than a thousand Tutsis from a Hutu-led genocide.
Don Cheadle is particularly magnificent as Paul, who slowly realizes that the mind-numbing atrocities committed by his fellow Hutus are not enough to draw the world's intervention. As he is told be a TV news photographer played by Joaquin Phoenix, "If people see this they'll say 'Oh, my God. That's horrible.' Then they go on eating their dinners."
Some critics have dissed Hotel Rwanda for sanitizing the genocide that occurred and not delving deeper into the geopolitical realities behind the conflict, but we wonder if those detractors wore perhaps expecting a documentary. True, this is a PG-13 view of genocide, but what resonated with us is the film's larger story of the West's disconnect to Africa. In light of the genocide in Sudan, the reality of global apathy is as sad now as it was in 1994-- and as sad as it likely will be ten years from now.
For more on Hotel Rwanda, we'll defer to Ann Hornaday's review in The Washington Post.