Un dimanche à Kigali (A Sunday in Kigali)

By Robert Favreau

Translated by Céline Dewaele.
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Un dimanche à Kigali, an adaptation of a novel by Gil Courtemanche, is more a film about a Quebecker journalist’s love for Africa than about the Rwandan Genocide. However, the will to evoke the genocide is obvious from the start, with images that recall its sparking off by the presidential guard and the army as soon as the President’s plane was brought down on April the 6th, 1994. The film is punctuated with historical elements that aim to show the key events: the lists asserting that it had been planned for a long time, the Western Powers’ negligence, the refusal to evacuate the Rwandans, the silence in front of the press of General Dallaire, who was in command of the UN’s blue helmets, all the more incomprehensible as he was compared to a priest who worked out a way of warning people of the future massacres at the hearings of confession.
So as not to deal head-on with the moment of horror, the film is structured around comings-and-goings in between two moments in time, with a six-months interval: before and after, January and July 1994. The after is in saturated colours, echoing the ravages and the survivor’s minds overwhelmed with pain. The before is lit by innocence and pure love, between Bernard Valcourt, come to Rwanda to shoot a documentary on AIDS and Gentille, a pretty waitress of the Mille collines Hotel where he is staying. He even stops seeing his usual prostitutes, for her. This relation to sex is constantly put forward, as a will, contrasting strongly with a universe of compromise and pretences, to not hide anything. Gentille, Hutu through her father, is in danger because people criticize her for sleeping with a white man. The death of one of the Aids sufferers in Valcourt’s film is orchestrated as an unlikely masturbatory ceremony, which calls to mind an episode of Invasion of the Barbarians by Quebecker Denys Arcand than an African reality. Gentille will be raped and tortured with such violence that she will not be able to be a woman anymore. Like AIDS, the genocide disfigures the country up to his flesh, but mostly serves to counter the adolescent relation Valcourt has with Africa. He cannot imagine settling there, far from the stress of western countries. The very prudish love scene between him and Gentille is the outcome of a moment when she introduces herself as « young, black and beautiful; every white man’s dream ».
While the film has been shot in Rwanda and has had the courage to present itself as a « fiction inspired by real happenings » in the credits, contrary to Hotel Rwanda or Shooting Dogs who claimed to be directly taken from real facts, it no less remains the screened fiction of a face-to-face with oneself, which Africa reveals and for whom she acts as a tragic setting. With the difference, although big, that the film focuses on complicity: « You thought we were animals, now you know we are human beings ». As a man who is always out on the ground, Valcourt lives his relation with Africa with passion. Back to look for Gentille, after being stuck at the frontier for three months during which he learnt Kinyarwanda, he feels his beloved’s agony down to his flesh, as suggests a heavy parallel editing. He embraces his fate by going as far as respecting the terrible mortal pact that she had suggested.
The blunt reconstruction of the rape with a shadowgraph, only moment between the before and the after, represents by itself the violence of the genocide, like the hatred of the feminine sex which resurfaces without limits in times of madness. « A camera cannot do anything in front of machetes », Valcourt will say, but the film proves the contrary: it is entirely constructed around the belief that cinema has a pedagogical power. The romance (extremely naïvely sentimental) is supposed to reinforce the identification with the protagonists in order to emphasize the trauma and the horror for the spectator. The muddy colour and haggard face of Luc Picard, who very convincingly portrays an exhausted-by-the-ordeal Valcourt, are supposed to perfect the sensorial experience of tragedy. Terror is on the agenda, to convince of a possible redemption. Humanistic and generous, Un dimanche à Kigali reflects Valcourt’s attitude, an ode to achieving redemption through kindness. This implies a physical commitment. A moral is necessary in order to refine the sexual relation to Africa: it is by sharing its fate that one can escape from dominating.
The script’s sweeping ambition is confronted with the limited budget. But if the film is moving, it is because it is precisely not what the Hollywood machine produces on these kinds of « grand subjects »: better a wobbly plot and sincere actors and actresses than the technical expertise for reconstruction from which no Hollywood film escapes. Un dimanche à Kigali never lapses into entertainment. Even though it lines down bodies furtively, it never calls out to a perverse fascination for violence. Even if it also appears as a thriller, it does not make it the trigger for action. It remains an ambitious but respectable attempt at calling to mind an African tragedy crossed by a love story so as to face reality and try to understand this human being who is able to commit the most unspeakable things and yet give treasures of humanity.

///Article N° : 5928

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