Rwandan film brings to life 1994 genocide

25 January 2010 - 02:00
By unknown

KIGALI - The latest feature film on the 1994 Rwanda genocide, which premiéred in the city at the weekend, shows in excruciating detail what day-to-day life must have been like for those who survived beyond the first days of the killing.

Belgian director Philippe Van Leeuw shot Le jour où Dieu est parti en voyage (The Day God Stayed Away) over two months - June to August 2008 - partly in Kigali, partly in the southwestern province of Cyangugu.

The title comes from the saying in Kinyarwanda that God may spend the daylight hours somewhere else, but always comes home to spend the night in Rwanda. The inference being that the genocide - in which some 800000 people, essentially minority Tutsis, were killed - happened at the time he failed to return home to sleep.

Jacqueline, played by Ruth Nirere, a hitherto unknown Rwandan actress who won several awards for the role, finds her two children slaughtered on the living room floor in the first days of the genocide. As she attempts to wash the bodies she is chased out by neighbours who want to lynch her.

She watches from a distance as an old woman, intent on occupying the house, drags the children's bodies out onto the street and then sweeps the ground matter-of-factly.

Then begins a life of hiding in the forest, living like an animal, along with another survivor whose wounds she treats, and whose name we never learn.

Periodically Hutu militia hear them in the undergrowth and give chase, boasting of those they have already raped and killed.

Many spectators at Thursday's avant-première for officials and diplomats could be seen averting their eyes from the screen during the most harrowing scenes.

At the première on Friday two women walked out, unable to stand the scene where Jacqueline finds her children dead.

The film, Van Leeuw's first, has minimal dialogue, partly in Kinyarwanda and partly in French, much of it composed as the actors went along.

Outside of Rwanda the film is unlikely to make it onto mainstream screens. - Sapa-AFP