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The Day God Walked Away (Toronto Film Festival 2009, 18 -19 Sept.)



 “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”—Milan Kundera


    The brief history of films about the 1994 Rwandan genocide seem to range wildly, from glossy Oscar bait like Hotel Rwanda to the intimate, poetic beauty of Lee Isaac Chung’s Munyurangabo to the damning documentary Shake Hands With The Devil.  But a look under the hood shows the most difficult truth about these films, whether they feature a big name movie star, a foreigner directing local non-actors or reportage on the moral failings of the international community; most of the films about the Rwandan genocide feature a distinctly Western touch and, unable to capture the emotional experience of the genocide itself, refract the issue of the Rwandan experience through the lens of something akin to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Even the brilliant Munyurangabo, which focuses on reconciliation in the years after the genocide, is only able to capture the ghostly remnants of those actual, murderous days, and Hotel Rwanda puts the murder on the other side of an iron fence, creating something akin to a Schindler’s List for the Tutsi people. Cinema has proven wholly inadequate as a substitute for memory in telling the story of the murderous rampage that took place in Rwanda.

The Day God Walked Away, directed by the Belgian cinematographer Philippe van Leeuw (making his debut), takes a massive step forward in using the language of cinema to convey the horror of the genocide.  Instead of making the genocide a pretext for grand statements about personal responsibility or the cultural and tribal conflicts that drove the Hutu majority to murder their Tutsi neighbors en masse, van Leeuw forgoes psychology, culture and the massive scale of death, distilling the genocide into the experience of a single Tutsi woman named Jacqueline (Rwandan pop star Ruth Niere, making a powerful debut).

In his writing on the film, van Leeuw describes his inspiration for the story; “In April 1992, some friends of mine returned from Rwanda following the emergency evacuation… Before they left, they hid Jacqueline, their children’s Rwandan nanny, in the attic of their house in Kigali, hoping that she would escape the massacre. They never knew what became of her.”

Thus begins van Leeuw’s film, which the imagines the genocidal experience from Jacqueline’s perspective; Hiding Anne Frank-like in a dirty attic while the Hutu militas search the home of her employers.

        Rest here:


September 17, 2009 Posted by | africa, african, world cinema, film festival | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment