In Rwanda we say...

By Ronnie Scheib

How to live side-by-side with those who have brutally slaughtered your entire family is the conundrum that haunts In Rwanda We Say..., the second installment in Anne Aghion's quest to document the aftermath of genocide. Helmer's seminal Gacaca, Living Together Again? was screened around the world as a possible blueprint for resolving ethnic conflict. The improbably beautiful yet oddly anticlimactic sequel In Rwanda, paired with Gacaca, should be even more in demand, given worldwide commemorations of the massacres on their 10-year anniversary. Duo debuts on Sundance Channel April 5 before theatrical bow at Gotham's Pioneer Two Boots on April 16.

Aghion's first film chronicled the establishment of tribal tribunals, called "Gacaca," to deal with the more than 100,000 Hutus suspected of participating in the slaughter of 800,000 Tutsis in 1994. One would expect the sequel to concern the Gacaca, but instead, pic reveals that the final dispensation of justice has been put off to an uncertain date, as the country struggles to support the vast number of detainees.

In Rwanda begins on Jan. 2, 2003, when the government released some 16,000 self-confessed war criminals back among their friends, relatives and victims. Action follows one such man, Abraham Rwamfizi, who returns home to the small village of Gafumba.

Though he has confessed to killing and now wanders down the road where his night patrol once roamed exterminating Tutsis, Rawmfizi denies the specific allegations of several Hutu widows (and those of his own brother-in-law) that he was responsible for the murders of their Tutsi husbands and children.

His denial greatly complicates the Tutsis' struggle to coexist. The women are particularly bitter. Bereft of husbands and children, their loved ones having been hacked to death before their eyes, they feel that they are already dead and have nothing to lose. The men tend to be more anxious and conciliatory; having hidden out for months in terror, they have learned the hard lessons of survival.

In school, children are encouraged to speak out about the conflict: optimistic declarations of inter-ethnic friendship are communally voiced while, in corners, dark visions of the future fearfully arise. Meanwhile the adults, prodded by the government and caught in the camera eye, try to initiate powwows. Aided greatly by the innate civility of Rwandan culture and the enforced intimacy of small-town life, Hutu and Tutsi sit down to awkward exchanges about the weather. These slowly morph into temporary confrontations and, through the stubborn good will of a few and the very real fear of all of resumption of hostilities, into the fragile beginnings of peace.

Given the situation, it is a definite step toward living together, but docu unfortunately cannot tie things up for a dramatically satisfying ending. No real justice is administered, no trial is held, no verdict given, and the remaining Tutsis are left so much poorer and alone.

Still fascinating, however, is the confluence of the government's tolerance-selling newspeak with Rwanda's traditional belief in the power of public discussion or, as the title would have it, "the family that does not speak dies."

As in Gacaca, much of docu's power derives from extraordinary lensing, here by Claire Bailly du Bois and James Kakwerere, characterized by deep, radiant color and seemingly effortless, painterly compositions. Thus a conversation between two women inside a hut, who alternately ignore and provoke the filmmakers ("What do these whites want?"), becomes a sun-dappled interior stage where the fold of their pagnes and drape of their hands hold sway.

© 2004 Reed Business Information