Directed by Alrick Brown and performed by a blend of amateur actors and witnesses to the Rwandian genocide, Kinyarwanda can be called wildly eclectic. Written by Ishmael Ntihabose, the script possesses a dignity that the film doesn’t always realize. Where he is surefooted in what he wants to say in each vigniette, Alrick Brown is sometimes confused by how and sometimes (and most worryingly of all) what exactly should be emphasized to get the point across. While Alrick Brown as director show promise as he observes lost souls reaching out for repentance, there are times where his technique can be criticized for being too cinematic; his use of slow-motion to capture relief or suffering accentuate his lack of concern for cadence, for the misc en scene. It is a melange of faith and strength, but also of unwarranted suffering and confusion. It is welcomed that Brown never goes for the throat and his direction certainly more optimistic than you would expect given the film’s setting, but at times it is fair to feel that the film would have been more effective had he insulated his entire film with the uneasiness that permeates the aforementioned scene of penitence. At times, the film doesn’t feel like the film we’ve been watching – the attitude toward the material changes drastically from vignette to vignette. The patient cinematography utilized to make the segment Re-Edukation Camp 2004 as affecting as it was vanishes when it comes to scenes with larger production value; more people and something cinematic like a death or a revelation. The idiosyncratic script that brings together all these storylines is quite ingenious, at times feeling like the writer was granted Shakespeare’s perfect sense of irony and tragedy, all while speaking articulately about Rwanda’s 1994 genocide and many of the circumstances that caused it and resolved it, going so far as to show a scene depicting the high acting Muslims of Rwanda discussing what led to the inevitable harmony of Rwanda, or at least momentarily dispelling the conflict and reviving a lot of the faith that was lost during.
This film is all about heart and the heart of all film’s come from the actors. A person can write and a person can direct, but if there isn’t an honest soul in the character on-screen, we are not going to feel a connection. We can feel a true emotion – if they’re vacant we can feel disdain, if they’re calculated we can feel reverence for their skill – but we’re not, or at least I’m not, going to feel love – and that’s the most important thing. For this reason, I must first talk about Edouard Bamporiki’s performance as the reticent Emmanuel, a character we first see in a Re-Education Camp* ten years after the genocide. From the first moment he appears on-screen, we know his performance is going to be special; that he is going to evoke an honesty we see more in these amateur settings than in more professional productions. He does not identify himself with anyone or anything; his energy is off, he looks trapped inside his body; he composes himself like onyx. We are drawn to him. With every expression tacit – with reservation identical to our own reserved reflections and quietly palpable inner turmoil – his acting is not acting but self-examination caught on film. Then, it is also true that his acting lacks tact and when he speak his cathartic piece at the end, more dialogue composure can be desired and his potential seen, but yet fully realized. Still, from the moment he emerges in the film and we feel his bitter, self-contained suffering, we want it to end. Immediately. And that isn’t for lack of backstory – when it comes, we still feel badly for him, for his pain. Acting like this revitalizes my appreciation of watching the performer perform because it reminds me that sometimes there is no discretion in the action – that the person performing has opened themselves up to the world and that honesty, that strength is what fills my heart with love.
Other performers range from honest to misjudged and that’s where the film’s greatest weakness is. If Bamporiki’s style of acting is true, so then is Cleophas Kabasita’s and Kena Onyenjekwe’s in their limited roles, and Cassandra Freeman honest in her strong, nobel way despite how she is shot in slow-motion to a detrimental degree. However, the focus of the film is a young Tutsi woman named Jean (Hadidja Zaninka) who is in a burgeoning relationship with a sweet, caring Hutu man named Ishmael (Hassan Kabera), has a tragic trouble freshly seated in her heart and a big moment at the end where her storyline and Bamporiki’s come together in a disheartening way, yet it all seems to have escaped her. Her effort is clear – her intention is good, so she can not be blamed for anything but being miscast. She is not an actress and was clearly uncomfortable succumbing and fluctuating between states of complete emotional devastation and losing herself in fleeting illusions of love for the screen. Most of the film’s players are not actors by trade so to say she is not an actress is not a slight, but those actors, for the most part, did expose their pains and open up on screen. If Zaninka has suffered, she is sadly in a state of circumvention. So to is Mazimpaka Kennedy (in the role of a priest at odds with his faith and seeing the goodness in himself), but he has more skill. He is probably the most skilled performer of the bunch as it’s easy to notice how he nails comic and dramatic cues where no other actors in the film do. Their cadences are natural and his are not – his emotional scenes don’t exactly render true and are actually jarring as you notice how much more comfortable he is being superficial. Though his emotional moments do lack what he offers to the film is a mainstream style that is welcomed in film drenched in too honest suffering. His segment is the only inconsistent one – the others are either good or bad and to varying degrees.
It’s an well-meaning, but inconsistent film with an ambitious scope to respect and a beautiful message. Without spoiling the film – think to yourself how many deaths are seen or implied? For a film that resolutely illustrates the fear and tension in Rwanda during its three month genocide in 1994, it is something, in the end, that almost completely avoids brutality to spread its hopeful message. If Kinyarwanda is not completely satisfying, it is ultimately beautiful.
* A Re-Education Camp is designed to relieve the minds of those Hutu’s who committed violent and mostly murderous acts during the 1994 genocide. They are told to forgive themselves for what they have done and ask for forgiveness to those they have hurt. None of them wield hatred or commit acts of violence – their minds do not need adjusting, they know what they have done is wrong.