Friday, January 21, 2005

intestinal fortitude

Teutonia's got a gift for snagging free movie passes, so yesterday we went to see Hotel Rwanda at the Kabuki. It's sort of a Rwandan Schindler's List; it tells the true story of a Hutu hotel manager who sheltered 1,286 Tutsi and Hutu refugees from the Interahamwe in his five-star hotel, the Mille Colines, in 1994. Don Cheadle gives an absolutely phenomenal performance as Paul Rusesabagina (as do Sophie Okonedo as his wife and Nick Nolte (!) as the head of the UN peacekeeping force in Kigali), and it's definitely a film worth seeing.

That said, it's pretty violent, and I for one walked out sick with shame and anger. I'm not usually affected this way by movies--years in the industry, first as the child of a worker and then as a worker myself--have inured me to some of the emotional pull celluloid can wield. But I really felt this one. I found myself mouthing the words fucking Hutus over and over again, and welling up with tears through most of the film.

What made it even more intense was that I was sitting next to a German woman in her early fifties, and wondering what she was seeing as she watched this depiction of one group of people systematically slaughtering the members of another group of people. We must exterminate the Tutsi cockroaches was a phrase that kept coming up in the film, in some form or another, and the resonance with the Holocaust was pretty much impossible for me to ignore. We'd agreed that we'd sit and talk afterwards about what we'd seen, and I found myself wondering if we were going to talk about how it felt to be there together, one German and one American Jew.

As it happens, we didn't really. When she said, I don't understand how people can be so cruel, I let it slide. Because I was also thinking about how so many people try to justify the way nobody intervened to stop Hitler from decimating my people by saying, we didn't know what was going on in the camps. Which I think, frankly, is bullshit: sure, maybe at first, but years into it? Clouds of evil-smelling smoke blocking the sun? Give me a break.

But fast forward fifty years. We--you and I and every American who could turn on the news--knew that genocide was going down in Rwanda. And we let it happen. A million corpses.

You understand why I left the theater weak and feeling like I was having an out-of-body experience. Teutonia was pretty shaken up too.