4-1 | Table of Con­tents | http://​dx​.doi​.org/10.17742/IMAGE.scandal.4-1.10 | Defra­eye PDF

Susan Son­tag reminds us that film and pho­tog­ra­phy have an extreme­ly demo­c­ra­t­ic heuris­tic poet­ics, and are qua­si-uni­ver­sal­ly acces­si­ble for sig­ni­fi­ca­tion, though at the same time, it almost always implies a prime tar­get audi­ence. The many films that have come out on the Rwan­dan geno­cide (1994) are no excep­tion. Film has been a prime access source to this bloody event and dom­i­nates, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the West, our remem­brance and under­stand­ing of one of the most intense and gru­el­ing polit­i­cal con­flicts in African his­to­ry. All these films strug­gle with a com­pul­sive need for struc­tured nar­ra­tion, whether it is in their fable, or in the visu­al rep­re­sen­ta­tion itself, while the his­tor­i­cal events were cer­tain­ly not expe­ri­enced as part of a lin­ear struc­ture. At the same time, the films aim for his­tor­i­cal cred­i­bil­i­ty, or truth­ful­ness, which is ren­dered through a vari­ety of filmic approach­es. The arti­cle dis­cuss­es the fic­tion­al­iza­tion of geno­cide through film, and prob­lema­tizes the qua­si-unavoid­able doc­u­men­tary effect of filmic iter­a­tion. Robert Favreau’s Un Dimanche à Kigali is ana­lyzed in greater detail, as it offers spe­cif­ic strate­gies to the prob­lem of filmic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of geno­ci­dal vio­lence.

Susan Son­tag nous rap­pelle que le ciné­ma et la pho­togra­phie ont un poé­tique démoc­ra­tique et heuris­tique qui rend leur sig­ni­fi­ca­tion uni­verselle­ment acces­si­ble, tout en désig­nant presque tou­jours un pub­lic cible. Les nom­breux films sur le géno­cide rwandais (1994) ne font pas excep­tion. Le ciné­ma a été une source pri­mor­diale d’accès à cet événe­ment sanglant, et il domine, surtout en Occi­dent, le sou­venir et la com­préhen­sion de ce con­flit poli­tique qui a mar­qué l’histoire de l’Afrique. Tous ces films démon­trent un besoin com­pul­sif de don­ner une struc­ture au réc­it, qu’elle soit dans la nar­ra­tion ou dans la représen­ta­tion visuelle, et cela bien que les événe­ments his­toriques ne sur­gis­sent pas selon une struc­ture linéaire. De plus, ces films vis­sent une crédi­bil­ité ou une sincérité his­torique accom­plie moyen­nant une var­iété des tech­niques ciné­matographiques. Cet arti­cle éval­ue la mise en fic­tion du géno­cide a tra­vers le ciné­ma et ques­tionne le qua­si-inévitable effet-doc­u­men­taire que pro­duit son itéra­tion filmique. On y analyse « Un dimanche à Kigali » de Robert Favreau pour met­tre en évi­dence ses straté­gies d’investigation de la représen­ta­tion ciné­matographique de la vio­lence géno­cidaire.

Piet Defra­eye | Uni­ver­si­ty of Alber­ta

The Rwandan Genocide in Film, and A Sunday in Kigali:
Watching with a Pierced Eye

The 1994 Rwan­dan geno­cide is still fresh in our mem­o­ry as a shock­ing tragedy, a grue­some con­flict, dur­ing which between 500,000 and 1,000,000 peo­ple lost their lives. The mem­o­ry of it is inex­tri­ca­bly linked with the fail­ure of the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty to pre-empt or inter­vene effec­tive­ly. When the obvi­ous­ly pre-med­i­tat­ed hos­til­i­ties broke out in all their vicious­ness on the night of April 6 1994, after the aero­plane that car­ried the Pres­i­dents of both Rwan­da and Burun­di, Juvé­nal Hab­ya­ri­mana and Cyprien Ntaryami­ra, was shot down over Kigali air­port, there were few jour­nal­ists and cam­era­men in the cen­tral African coun­try avail­able to doc­u­ment a 100-day killing spree rarely observed in human his­to­ry. In the chaos of this mur­der­ous vio­lence, the hand­ful that were based in Rwan­da either imme­di­ate­ly fled to safe­ty or were con­fined to a very small action radius. The con­flict, in oth­er words, was not well doc­u­ment­ed on tele­vi­sion and in live reportage, which, con­tem­po­rary wit­ness­es sug­gest, is just one of the rea­sons why it actu­al­ly assumed its hor­ren­dous pro­por­tions. How­ev­er, since the vic­to­ry of the Rwan­dese Patri­ot­ic Front, and the rel­a­tive calm it brought to this small cen­tral African coun­try in spite of the Pan-African and region­al wars that have fol­lowed the Rwan­dese mas­sacres, the iter­a­tion of the Rwan­dan geno­cide by a wide vari­ety of artists and his­to­ri­ans has explod­ed into its own genre, with nov­els and films lead­ing this pletho­ra of respons­es, from mon­u­ments and muse­ums, over plays and doc­u­men­taries to poet­ry and songs.[1] There is, how­ev­er, no doubt about the preva­lence of film in the estab­lish­ment of cul­tur­al mem­o­ry about Rwanda’s dark­est months. This arti­cle exam­ines some of the prob­lems of cin­e­matog­ra­phy as it relates to the Rwan­dan geno­cide, par­tic­u­lar­ly its his­tor­i­cal-doc­u­men­tary pre­ten­sions, its preva­lent dri­ve for visu­al and nar­ra­tive struc­ture, its strug­gle with the aes­thet­ics of vio­lence, and its impos­si­ble task of cap­tur­ing death. In the sec­ond part of the arti­cle, I offer an analy­sis of one film in par­tic­u­lar: Un dimanche à Kigali (2006), a Cana­di­an-pro­duced movie, writ­ten and direct­ed by Que­bec direc­tor Robert Favreau, based on the epony­mous nov­el by Giles Courte­manche.

The films that emerged were either based on wit­ness accounts and true sto­ries of the events or, alter­na­tive­ly, on cul­tur­al nar­ra­tives which were them­selves often nar­row­ly or loose­ly inspired by his­tor­i­cal events. The lat­ter is cer­tain­ly the case for Courtemanche’s nov­el, orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in 2000, six years after the geno­cide, and sub­se­quent­ly wide­ly trans­lat­ed across the globe, before it became the main blue­print for Favreau’s film. Michael Caton’s Shoot­ing Dogs[2] (2005) is based on the trag­ic and shame­ful sto­ry of a tech­ni­cal school that was the site of a major deba­cle in the Unit­ed Nations: UNAMIR’s fail­ure to mean­ing­ful­ly inter­vene at the out­break of the geno­cide. Hotel Rwan­da (2004) is based on a key leg­end that emerged from the con­flict, that of hotel man­ag­er Paul Rus­esabag­i­na, whose actu­al mem­oir, An Ordi­nary Man; an Auto­bi­og­ra­phy, was pub­lished in 2007, well after the film’s release and sub­se­quent box office suc­cess.  Many of these films have been shown in the com­mer­cial cir­cuit and on tele­vi­sion, with con­sid­er­able atten­tion, so it is no sur­prise that these movies have been major forces in the pub­lic dis­sem­i­na­tion of knowl­edge about the Rwan­dan geno­cide, and as such must be approached as major cul­tur­al dis­course on the con­flict. So major indeed, that quite often, some of them have assumed a ven­er­a­ble sta­tus of his­tor­i­cal doc­u­men­ta­tion, as in the case of Hotel Rwan­da. On the oth­er hand, one would also expect these movies to be part of a process of heal­ing from the trau­ma that the polit­i­cal vio­lence in Rwan­da has left. It is prob­lem­at­ic, in this con­text, that their pri­ma­ry audi­ence is not a local audi­ence, but a west­ern-based audi­ence. I will come back to this lat­er.

While many of the film-mak­ers under con­sid­er­a­tion have pro-active­ly pur­sued a lev­el of authen­tic­i­ty unprece­dent­ed in the reg­u­lar Hol­ly­wood film, all are quick to acknowl­edge the reduc­tive and manip­u­la­tive inter­ven­tions of the film medi­um itself. Michael Caton, for instance, had to reduce the num­ber of priests that were work­ing at the Don Bosco École tech­nique offi­cielle from five to one, and, as Dauge-Roth points out, “no white priests stayed at the ETO to die with the Rwan­dans after the Bel­gian forces left” (176), unlike the strate­gi­cal­ly named priest Christo­pher, bril­liant­ly real­ized by John Hurt, who, in the end, shares the fate of the hun­dreds of Rwan­dese he is try­ing to pro­tect. What may seem like minor details in the fable are ulti­mate­ly cru­cial in the gen­er­a­tion and man­age­ment of affect in the viewer’s recep­tion and response. Sim­i­lar­ly, Ter­ry Georges’ film Hotel Rwan­da, which has by far been the most suc­cess­ful in terms of box office and cul­tur­al impact, illus­trates well the priv­i­leged posi­tion the medi­um of film has in the genre of geno­cide memo­ri­al­iza­tion, but more impor­tant­ly also in the shap­ing of a spe­cif­ic and/or col­lec­tive mem­o­ry of the Rwan­dan geno­cide. Hotel Rwan­da, like most films on the Rwan­dan geno­cide, assertive­ly fore­grounds the fact that its nar­ra­tive is based on real events, thus giv­ing it an aura of authen­tic­i­ty, reli­a­bil­i­ty and truth. Yet, con­sid­er­able crit­i­cal work has since been done on Hotel Rwan­da[3] and oth­er films, that chal­lenges the films’ verac­i­ty and under­lines choic­es and manip­u­la­tions which make these films more pal­pa­ble, and there­fore suc­cess­ful in a Hol­ly­wood sense: they by and large gen­er­ate com­fort­able audi­ence posi­tions that find their bal­ance in easy and sim­pli­fied –if not down­right erro­neous- under­stand­ing.  As we shall see, a film like A Sun­day in Kigali is sure­ly cul­pa­ble of this sort of manip­u­la­tion in the set-up of its fable, how­ev­er, it also adopts a strat­e­gy that at the same time ques­tions the pow­er of its own – and there­fore also the viewer’s – point of view. At this point, it is use­ful to talk about the tar­get audi­ence of these films.

Susan Son­tag, in response to Vir­ginia Woolf’s obser­va­tions about war iconog­ra­phy, won­ders whether there is a col­lec­tive and iden­ti­fi­able “we” that responds to imagery of atroc­i­ty: “No ‘we’ should be tak­en for grant­ed when the sub­ject is look­ing at oth­er people’s pain” (7). Most of the Rwan­da-geno­cide films, how­ev­er, are clear­ly aimed towards a west­ern audi­ence and have a col­lec­tive we in mind. Michael Caton-Jones says on his Shoot­ing Dogs: “I wasn’t mak­ing the film for Rwan­dan audi­ence.…  I made it for peo­ple who’ve nev­er been there and have no stake or even an inter­est in it” (“Inter­view”). The film then, through its shock­ing nar­ra­tive, is meant to jolt the west­ern spec­ta­tor into secur­ing an inter­est, whether through indig­na­tion, con­ster­na­tion, or guilt. Raoul Peck’s Some­times in April (2004) has Rwan­dese char­ac­ters as the key-play­ers in its fable, yet here too, the audi­ence in mind is a west­ern audi­ence. This focus is also made clear in Peck’s deter­mi­na­tion to anchor his sto­ry with­in a nar­ra­tive of col­o­niza­tion and its aber­ra­tion, as he begins the pro­logue to the film with a sequence of over­lap­ping maps that pro­gres­sive­ly show the col­o­niza­tion and exploita­tion of cen­tral Africa. The first spo­ken words in Peck’s film are: “Where did it all begin?” The answer, the film makes clear, is to be found in the botched Bel­gian col­o­niza­tion (we see his­tor­i­cal footage of one of the first vis­its of a milk-faced Bel­gian King Bau­douin) and the sub­se­quent pater­nal­iza­tion of the same region in post-colo­nial times (the next his­tor­i­cal clip is Bill Clinton’s 2004 vis­it, adroit­ly apol­o­giz­ing to a class of Rwan­dese school­child­ren for the USA’s non-inter­ven­tion). Peck’s rhetoric is clear­ly aimed at a west­ern col­lec­tive we.

The col­lec­tive we of spec­ta­tor­ship is also defined in the dom­i­nance of Cau­casian char­ac­ters on the screen. Just about all films that have come out have an over-rep­re­sen­ta­tion of white char­ac­ters in their fable of this cen­tral-African event, and are focused some­how on moral dilem­mas per­tain­ing to their white char­ac­ters, which, in the actu­al his­tor­i­cal events played a periph­er­al role. Dauge-Roth calls this priv­i­leg­ing of white iden­ti­ty “jus­ti­fi­able in that it allows for points of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and elic­its feel­ings of sym­pa­thy from view­ers, and maybe even a sense of his­tor­i­cal cul­pa­bil­i­ty” (189). One film that stands out is Nick Hughes’s 100 Days, which was the first fea­ture to come out on the Rwan­dan geno­cide in 2001, and is often referred to as the least his­tor­i­cal­ly revi­sion­ist. While its two lead char­ac­ters are both local Tut­si – in itself a rare feat in the fil­mog­ra­phy on Rwan­da-- it prob­a­bly has the largest quan­ti­ty of white char­ac­ters cast­ed. How­ev­er, in con­trast to oth­er films, just about all of these are quite overt­ly racist or prej­u­diced, and also quite cow­ard­ly in their behav­ior. Hugh­es’ film was not a great box office suc­cess, and while low bud­gets and ama­teur act­ing may have some­thing to do with this, the strat­e­gy not to pro­vide his spec­ta­tor­ship with an easy way-out in terms of sal­va­tion or redemp­tion of the respon­si­bil­i­ty of the West may well be the main fac­tor. It is all the more sur­pris­ing, since his film is one of the only ones that actu­al­ly pro­vides a sense of authen­tic­i­ty in terms of it being less staged or act­ed.  Pro­duced by Rwan­dan film mak­er Eric Kabera, who lost many of his own fam­i­ly mem­bers in the geno­cide, the film was shot in Rwan­da in the Kibuye area, using most­ly local­ly avail­able non-pro­fes­sion­als, often sur­vivors as well as per­pe­tra­tors. The film is a good exam­ple of the trap­pings and dan­gers with which film­mak­ers are chal­lenged. It is clear­ly based on sol­id research – in this case the first-hand expe­ri­ences of just about all that were involved in the film, includ­ing direc­tor, pro­duc­ers, and actors, and the film’s his­tor­i­cal reli­a­bil­i­ty is very high – almost at a doc­u­men­tary lev­el. Fur­ther­more, it is unapolo­getic in its focus on the respon­si­bil­i­ty of the West in the lack of any seri­ous attempt to pre­vent and/or effec­tive­ly inter­vene. The film, how­ev­er, strug­gles with its own aes­thet­ics, as the vio­lence shown becomes quite watch­able, most­ly because of cin­e­mato­graph­ic choic­es and the seduc­tive allure of Hugh­es’ expert cam­er­a­work, this in stark con­trast to a very sim­ple dia­logue –in Kin­yarwan­da and in Eng­lish, also a rare feat– deliv­ered by charm­ing, but often awk­ward actors. While the movie, like all the oth­ers, is real­ly only avail­able to and geared towards a West­ern audi­ence, the most impor­tant impact of the film is prob­a­bly on a local lev­el, where it con­tributed con­sid­er­ably to the local econ­o­my and the (re-)establishment of local film exper­tise while being researched and shot. Because of its com­mu­ni­ty-based gen­e­sis, it also became a cat­a­lyst for memo­r­i­al dis­course to find its way into the local pub­lic are­na.

In more gen­er­al terms, and irre­spec­tive of the implied audi­ence, there is some­thing very pecu­liar going on as to the affec­tive and cog­ni­tive impact of these films on the estab­lish­ment of a col­lec­tive mem­o­ry of what hap­pened in Rwan­da in 1994. Dauge-Roth apt­ly calls these fea­ture films on Rwan­da “vec­tors of mem­o­ry that reach a large audi­ence” (192), and their role in shap­ing and impact­ing on a dom­i­nant view of the Rwan­dan geno­cide after-the-fact can hard­ly be under­es­ti­mat­ed. At a very basic lev­el, we can­not for­get that film, as well as pho­tog­ra­phy, is an extreme­ly demo­c­ra­t­ic heuris­tic medi­um. Film and pho­tog­ra­phy have a very wide base of under­stand­abil­i­ty. While film analy­sis cours­es and extend­ed expo­sure can cer­tain­ly help in the under­stand­ing and appre­ci­a­tion of the depths and lay­ers of any film, the novice and unini­ti­at­ed film spectator/consumer is a per­fect­ly legit­i­mate author­i­ty in his or her spon­ta­neous response to and engage­ment with a film. Son­tag points out that crit­i­cal inves­tiga­tive reports and bul­letins, or cre­ative respons­es like nov­els and plays have a spe­cif­ic read­er­ship, whose access depends on the work’s “com­plex­i­ty of thought, ref­er­ence, and vocab­u­lary.” In con­trast, how­ev­er, “a pho­to­graph has only one lan­guage and is des­tined poten­tial­ly for all” (20). While we can unques­tion­ably take issue with Sontag’s sug­ges­tion here that pho­tog­ra­phy (or film) has a sim­ple semi­otic sys­tem, we agree that its heuris­tic poten­tial­i­ty is indeed qua­si-uni­ver­sal. The image speaks for all. We can­not say the same thing of Pri­mo Levi’s nov­els. Fur­ther­more, one thing that unites all films made on the geno­cide so far is their real­ist aes­thet­ics and their fair­ly tra­di­tion­al nar­ra­tive struc­ture, through which the sto­ry unwinds itself with a pur­pose­ful, tele­o­log­i­cal die­ge­sis, with clear caus­es and effects – often didac­ti­cal­ly explained or guid­ed through pro­logues– and with unmis­tak­able pro­tag­o­nists and antag­o­nists, all mov­ing towards a denoue­ment – often trag­ic, but nev­er­the­less pre­sent­ing a fan­ta­sy of clo­sure. While the events por­trayed may be mind­bog­gling and chaot­ic, there is an inter­nal coher­ence at work which makes us want to see the end of the movie’s plot, which we mis­tak­en­ly col­lapse with the his­tor­i­cal events them­selves, thus allow­ing us to think of the fic­tion­al clo­sure – The End – of the movie as the end and clo­sure of the his­tor­i­cal con­flict itself. For the spec­ta­tor, it is a dou­ble vic­to­ry. Not only is the un-rep­re­sentable dystopi­an mad­ness mold­ed into a com­pre­hen­si­ble for­mat, it is also, now, under­stood, appro­pri­at­ed, con­clud­ed, and there­fore over­come. The film­mak­ers sur­veyed for this analy­sis use a vari­ety of strate­gies, which come back time and again. The nar­ra­tive struc­ture that is geared towards clo­sure, and is coher­ent­ly framed, is usu­al­ly anchored with­in a basic set of his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ences. As indi­cat­ed, these his­tor­i­cal anchors are often explic­it­ly pro­vid­ed in pro­logues and epi­logues, or through voice-over or text slides. In some films, the his­toric­i­ty is pro­vid­ed explic­it­ly through his­tor­i­cal footage. Hotel Rwan­da, for instance, starts with a voice-over extract from a hyper-hate­ful but authen­tic radio dia­tribe on Radio Télévi­sion Libre des Mille Collines (RTML).  Raoul Peck uses his­tor­i­cal footage of King Bau­douin and Pres­i­dent Clinton’s vis­its to Rwan­da in Some­times in April, which he fol­lows up with an exten­sive and fair­ly detailed ­– almost didac­tic – his­tor­i­cal account of the con­flict through a sequence of text slides. When the film prop­er begins, it is invari­ably the sto­ry of some hero or vic­tim as anti-hero. These (anti-) heroes are pre­sent­ed as emblem­at­ic for what hap­pened; they rep­re­sent the wider real sto­ry that is being told, and in doing so, they acquire a super sta­tus of what Son­tag calls “star wit­ness­es, renowned for their brav­ery and zeal” (33). While these films want their sto­ry to be the geno­cide, our focus is invari­ably on the trag­ic and/or hero­ic fate of a par­tic­u­lar indi­vid­ual or set of indi­vid­u­als.

A key ques­tion in all of this is obvi­ous­ly whether film can legit­i­mate­ly add any­thing to our under­stand­ing of what hap­pened in Rwan­da dur­ing those 100 days in 1994. Or, more suc­cinct­ly: can geno­cide be filmed at all? As to jour­nal­is­tic cov­er­age of the geno­cide, it was in many ways sim­i­lar to the filmic evi­dence that exists of the Holo­caust, which is the spar­ing but hor­ren­dous filmic doc­u­men­ta­tion on the occa­sion of the lib­er­a­tion of var­i­ous con­cen­tra­tion camps in 1945: that is, after the fact! As the geno­cide broke out, jour­nal­is­tic cov­er­age became extreme­ly pre­car­i­ous in Rwan­da. Local jour­nal­ists were either par­ti­san mem­bers of the extrem­ist press –most­ly Hutu-lean­ing­, like Radio tele­vi­sion libre des mille collines (RTM), or the month­ly extrem­ist news­pa­per Kangura­, or were them­selves tar­gets of the vio­lence dur­ing the height of the car­nage.[4] The inter­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tion Reporters sans fron­tières esti­mat­ed a total of at least 49 local jour­nal­ists to be mur­dered in the four months fol­low­ing the out­break of the mur­der­ous infer­no (Chré­tien 389). Very few for­eign cor­re­spon­dents remained inside the coun­try in the first weeks after April 6, 1994, and only a hand­ful man­aged to find access to the coun­try and ade­quate­ly report on what was hap­pen­ing dur­ing the first few weeks. Even few­er man­aged to stay for suf­fi­cient time to actu­al­ly be able to give a fair tes­ti­mo­ny of the actu­al scope of things dur­ing the 100 days of car­nage. Three famous exam­ples of the lat­ter sort are George Ala­giah, Nick Hugh­es, and Els De Tem­mer­man. With a dozen or so col­leagues based in Nairo­bi, BBC-cor­re­spon­dent Ala­giah man­aged to enter Rwan­da in May, a full month into the atroc­i­ties, and was one of the main instru­ments through which the world could visu­al­ly wit­ness the most shock­ing aspects of the events in a mode which has become known as “let the pic­ture tell the sto­ry.” A month ear­li­er, inde­pen­dent British cam­era­man Nick Hugh­es entered Rwan­da for a brief peri­od in the first week of the geno­cide and famous­ly filmed an actu­al killing in the streets of Kigali. I will come back to this film­ing lat­er in my dis­cus­sion. A month ear­li­er, pre­cise­ly four days after the down­ing of the pres­i­den­tial plane, Els De Tem­mer­man, arrives in north­ern Rwan­da through Ugan­da, and facil­i­tat­ed by the Rwan­dese Patri­ot­ic Front, cov­ers the ini­tial events for the Dutch news­pa­per de Volk­skrant and the Flem­ish-Bel­gian radio sta­tion BRTN as one of the very first and only jour­nal­ists in the field. Only ten days lat­er she is forced to flee to neigh­bour­ing Nairo­bi, Kenya, and writes in her con­clud­ing sum­ma­ry of frag­men­tary impres­sions, as she waits for her plane to take off from the dev­as­ta­tions of Kigali air­port: “All jour­nal­ists have now left, togeth­er with the last few whites. As if the nar­ra­tive stops” (32; my trans­la­tion).

Mean­while we know that the nar­ra­tive sure­ly did not stop there, nor the his­tor­i­cal events – how­ev­er frag­ment­ed that account will for­ev­er remain– nor the com­pound­ed filmic nar­ra­tive that has since devel­oped. And the spe­cif­ic nar­ra­tive with­in the films under dis­cus­sion cer­tain­ly is nev­er dis­rupt­ed or halt­ed. Watch­ing these var­i­ous cin­e­mato­graph­ic doc­u­ments, the ques­tion whether geno­cide can über­haupt be filmed remains cen­tral. Sontag’s asser­tion that to “catch a death actu­al­ly hap­pen­ing and embalm it for all time is some­thing only cam­eras can do” (59) is strange and obvi­ous­ly extreme­ly reduc­tive. To give her cred­it, though, she lat­er also admits that pho­tog­ra­phy only real­ly adds to the lack of under­stand­ing of death. Pho­tographed, the dead vic­tims of vio­lence “are supreme­ly unin­ter­est­ed in the liv­ing: in those who took their lives; in wit­ness­es- and in us” (125). Nei­ther film, nor cer­tain­ly pho­tog­ra­phy have the capac­i­ty to actu­al­ly catch any­thing tru­ly mean­ing­ful of this mys­te­ri­ous tran­si­tion, and espe­cial­ly of the ago­nies in which it is often embed­ded. A pho­to­graph of a corpse is often as dis­tanced and remote as a plas­ter death mask, and only removes the spec­ta­tor from the haunt­ing­ly lim­i­noid char­ac­ter of death itself. The Bel­gian painter James Ensor had a series of paint­ings and draw­ings of his dead moth­er; they were kept togeth­er with a pair of pho­tographs of her laid-up corpse, the whole col­lec­tion made over the span of four or five days while his moth­er was laid up in their Ostend home in 1914. The pho­tographs them­selves are cold doc­u­ments, with­out any emo­tion, just, as it were, pro­vid­ing objec­tive proof of a cold death. His draw­ings and paint­ings, on the oth­er hand, while still show­ing a cold object that has no response to the view­er and has no sub­ject posi­tion – a cold still-life, if there ever was one! – col­lec­tive­ly doc­u­ment a huge tur­moil in the artist’s own sub­ject posi­tion. One of these shows his dead moth­er with wide open eyes in a pray­ing pose[5], the oth­ers are min­i­mal­ist pen­cil draw­ings, one of them in colour pen­cil, that doc­u­ment the emo­tion­al tur­moil of an inten­sive mother/son rela­tion­ship. The 1915 paint­ing, My Dead Moth­er (Todts 220) that was short­ly there­after com­plet­ed, cre­ates a wider scene, with a tray with phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal bot­tles in the fore­ground, hint­ing at a process of dis­in­te­gra­tion and strug­gle for the aging woman, who was a dom­i­nant force in the artist’s life. The image’s embalm­ing impact to which Son­tag refers to in her obser­va­tions about pho­tog­ra­phy takes place, clear­ly, out­side the paint­ings: these pic­tures wit­ness and doc­u­ment Ensor’s love for his moth­er and his strong moth­er attach­ment, and his sub­se­quent sense of loss.  Sit­ting there for hours, day after day beside the corpse of his moth­er, draw­ing her in these sim­ple and hon­est works before the more for­mal rit­u­al­ized good­bye of the bur­ial has pro­duced a huge­ly mov­ing doc­u­men­ta­tion of his love, grief, sense of loss, as well as his sheer fas­ci­na­tion with the corpse itself. The pho­tographs that fea­ture the same dead woman, on the oth­er hand, add vir­tu­al­ly noth­ing to our per­cep­tion and under­stand­ing of this strug­gle. More to the point: the entire series of pho­to­graph­ic doc­u­ments says noth­ing about his mother’s own strug­gle with death, how­ev­er far removed her peace­ful death in a sea-side resort was from a vio­lent mas­sacre in the marsh­es of Rwan­da.

Karyn Ball, in her immer­sive dis­cus­sion of the Holo­caust as an object of both inquiry as well as desire, reminds us of “the trope of unspeak­a­bil­i­ty,” which refers to the acknowl­edg­ment of a rad­i­cal “moral oth­er­ness of the atroc­i­ties” (36), so that they can­not, in fact, be iter­at­ed. This con­trasts with an abun­dant dis­cur­sive prac­tice, be it in film, prose, or crit­i­cal dis­course (this very essay in casu), which obvi­ous­ly trans­gress­es the taboo of unspeak­a­bil­i­ty. I would add to this the obvi­ous demand for this kind of iter­a­tion in cul­tur­al con­sump­tion. She spec­u­lates that these boun­ti­ful trans­gres­sions have less to do with the moral excess of the ref­er­enced vio­lence and more with a com­pul­sive but “shame­ful fas­ci­na­tion” with the trans­gres­sion itself, which “vio­lates deep held bour­geois codes” (37). The spec­ta­cle, re-cre­at­ed and re-pre­sent­ed in these films func­tions as a trap of vis­i­bil­i­ty, to use Foucault’s words, in which our eye is watch­ing with a dou­ble lens: its gaze marks out its intake as “objects/specimens of infor­ma­tion and of insti­tu­tion­al, clin­i­cal, and/or voyeuris­tic inter­est” but at the same time there is a self-con­scious­ness of a trans­gres­sive act, which, in a way, becomes a fri­able and there­fore vul­ner­a­ble or unpro­tect­ed per­for­mance of watch­ing. Ball describes it as being “caught in the act of stoop­ing to peer through the key­hole” (27). Or, to use the kind of imagery typ­i­cal for Rwan­da-films, we watch the machetes cleave through bleed­ing flesh cold­ly and clin­i­cal­ly, as part of an econ­o­my of knowl­edge (what hap­pened?, the sto­ry, the char­ac­ters, etc.) and of assim­i­la­tion (we rec­og­nize and con­demn the vio­lence). Yet, at the same time, our watch­ing itself becomes a frac­tious act, and has moments of hes­i­ta­tion, as we catch our­selves watch­ing what must not be watched. Our watch­ing eye is fig­u­ra­tive­ly pierced: as we are safe­ly absorbed, watch­ing the machete-props wield­ed in front of the cam­eras and actors, our gaze also draws clos­er into the watch­ing itself, and is inevitably wound­ed by the sharp steel points and blades that dan­ger­ous­ly hack right in front of our spy­hole, into vul­ner­a­ble and mor­tal flesh.

Mada­gas­car-born French jour­nal­ist Jean Hatzfeld stands out among the his­to­ri­og­ra­phers of the Rwan­dan geno­cide for his metic­u­lous record­ing of post-fac­tum mem­o­ries, trau­mas, tes­ti­mo­ni­als, and sen­si­bil­i­ties among sur­viv­ing vic­tims and per­pe­tra­tors alike, armed not with a cam­era, but with pen and notepad, and a voice-recorder. In 2003, four years after hav­ing cov­ered the final weeks of the geno­cide, he returns to the vil­lage of Nyamwiza, in the south-east­ern Buge­sera region, in search of sur­vivors.  By sheer co-inci­dence, he also wit­ness­es film­mak­er Raoul Peck’s elab­o­rate team in the vil­lage while cast and crew face huge logis­ti­cal and artis­tic prob­lems try­ing to re-con­struct and put to film the refugees’ hor­rid “rep­tile life in the marsh­es” (Hatzfeld 99) for the film Some­times in April. This rather sur­re­al­ist expe­ri­ence leads him to ask sur­vivor Inno­cent Rwililiza about the strik­ing absence of pho­to­graph­ic mate­r­i­al of the actu­al killings. Rwililiza’s answer is star­tling­ly self-evi­dent and to-the-point: “There aren’t any pho­tos because there is no place for pho­tog­ra­phers on killing fields, such as our marsh­es and forests. No path­way of any kind along which a for­eign­er might slip among the killers, the killed, and those who have yet to be killed” (Hatzfeld 98-99). And Rwililiza con­tin­ues with cap­ti­vat­ing clar­i­ty:

A geno­cide must be pho­tographed before the killings – to show clear­ly the prepa­ra­tion, the faces of the lead­ers, the stock­piled machetes, the com­plic­i­ty of the French sol­diers or Bel­gian priests,  . .  . And the geno­cide can be pho­tographed after­ward – to show the corpses, the survivor’s hag­gard faces, the arro­gance or shame of the killers, the church­es piled with bones, the events in Con­go and Cana­da, the pen­i­ten­tiaries, the cer­e­mo­ni­ous for­eign­ers vis­it­ing the memo­ri­als. (Hatzfeld100)

The survivor’s com­ments push the issue of rep­re­sen­ta­tion well beyond the logis­tics of what is pos­si­ble, and present it in its full eth­i­cal dimen­sion.

Film­ing death, as we know from sequences such as Sad­dam Hussein’s exe­cu­tion, quick­ly dis­in­te­grates into voyeuris­tic obscen­i­ty. As already men­tioned, one of the very few instances where the Rwan­dan killings are actu­al­ly doc­u­ment­ed on film is Nick Hugh­es’ footage of the slaugh­ter of a father and his 20-year old daugh­ter, lat­er iden­ti­fied as Gabriel Kaba­ga, an auto mechan­ic, and Jus­tine Mukan­gan­go. Hugh­es filmed the grue­some event on April 11, 1994, from the rooftop of a French school in Kigali’s Gikon­do dis­trict, flanked by a dis­tressed UN para­troop­er who, help­less­ly, guid­ed the cam­era­man to the scene through the scope of his rock­et-launch­er. The entire scene took no more than 20 min­utes to film, yet Hugh­es had to turn off his cam­era peri­od­i­cal­ly, “because he knows that he is almost out of tape and fears his bat­ter­ies are run­ning low” (Thom­son).[6] The grainy and jumpy footage was broad­cast that same evening on CNN, Ger­man ZDF, and Aus­tralian Broad­cast­ing, and oth­er chan­nels, but with­out much fur­ther impact or effect. In fact, the total of three min­utes and 12 sec­onds of video caused big­ger waves years lat­er, when Toron­to Star jour­nal­ist Allan Thomp­son man­aged to recon­struct the cir­cum­stances and iden­ti­fy both vic­tims as well as some of the cul­prits. Hugh­es him­self dealt with the eth­i­cal ques­tions and feel­ings of guilt of his role as film-his­to­ri­og­ra­ph­er in the bloody con­flict, in a 2008 doc­u­men­tary Ise­ta, Behind the Road­block, which focus­es on the cir­cum­stances of this killing and on the after­math, includ­ing the quest for jus­tice. The orig­i­nal doc­u­ment is obvi­ous­ly huge­ly impor­tant. Not only does it offer what is most like­ly the only actu­al killing dur­ing the Rwan­dan geno­cide doc­u­ment­ed in film, out of the hun­dreds of thou­sands of cas­es,[7] it has also inspired many oth­er rep­re­sen­ta­tions in films about Rwan­da, and is often quot­ed as an illus­tra­tion of both the media’s dis­sem­i­nat­ing pow­er and, at the same time, its inad­e­qua­cy to actu­al­ly inter­vene and stop the vio­lence. It was also used as foren­sic evi­dence to incrim­i­nate, try, con­vict, and incar­cer­ate one of the killers, Alexan­dre Usabyeyezu, who adamant­ly main­tains he has been wrong­ly iden­ti­fied in the blur­ry, frag­ment­ed film, fur­ther illus­trat­ing its own inad­e­qua­cy and fragili­ty as reveal­ing or reli­able doc­u­men­ta­tion. The over­whelm­ing affect of Hugh­es 3-minute film, how­ev­er, is the sense of jagged and qua­si-mis­placed intru­sive­ness – so shock­ing that it brings about a par­a­lyz­ing feel­ing of futil­i­ty and inef­fec­tive­ness. Inno­cent Rwililiza’s response to Hatzfeld’s query about pho­to­graph­ic evi­dence is help­ful to under­stand the impo­tent­ly explo­sive pow­er of Hugh­es’ wit­ness doc­u­ment: “the inti­mate truth of the geno­cide belongs to those who lived it” (Hatzfeld 100).

Inti­ma­cy is sure­ly not a word that can eas­i­ly be applied to the numer­ous Rwan­da films that have come out since. The camera’s voyeuris­tic eye is by def­i­n­i­tion an intrud­er into any poten­tial inti­ma­cy, espe­cial­ly when it con­cerns death. In var­i­ous films on the geno­cide, death is most­ly present through big sweep­ing cam­era shots of piles of corpses along dirty roads and at road check-points. To add to the effect, Raoul Peck uses some his­tor­i­cal footage, includ­ing it in his film Some­times in April. It comes with­out warn­ing, and presents obvi­ous eth­i­cal ques­tions for the view­er, who has set­tled for the con­ven­tion of re-enact­ment and is sud­den­ly con­front­ed with the uncer­tain­ty of real-life imagery of car­nage. Per­haps this is anoth­er occa­sion of watch­ing with a pierced eye, where our per­cep­tion is vio­lent­ly torn between the fable and the real. It is sim­i­lar to Krzysztof Kieslovski’s film Rouge (1994), which mix­es fic­tion with his­tor­i­cal footage of the sink­ing of the Zee­brugge-Dover fer­ry Her­ald of Free Enter­prise, which cap­sized just out­side of the Zee­brugge har­bour, with almost 200 vic­tims drown­ing in The Chan­nel. The inclu­sion of the doc­u­men­tary cov­er­age of the sink­ing ship in the mid­dle of the chaos and logis­ti­cal tur­moil of emer­gency oper­a­tions, in which Kieslovs­ki smart­ly inserts his char­ac­ters, is extreme­ly jar­ring and remains com­plete­ly un-acknowl­edged with­in the film. For any­body who par­tic­i­pat­ed in the res­cue oper­a­tions and the night­mar­ish out­come in the days fol­low­ing, Rouge remains a film that is hard­ly watch­able. In Peck’s case, unlike Kieslovs­ki, the inclu­sion of his­tor­i­cal footage of car­nage, at least, is with­in a sto­ry that itself is the nar­ra­tive or rep­re­sen­ta­tion of a his­tor­i­cal geno­cide. The doc­u­men­tary images are then used as a rein­force­ment of the film’s non-fic­tion­al­i­ty (though the details of the sto­ry itself of Some­times in April are fic­tion­al). Peck anchors his film in var­i­ous places ref­er­enc­ing his­tor­i­cal events by means of direct quo­ta­tion, vary­ing from the above hor­rid footage, to a soc­cer match that was being broad­cast of the eve of the 6th of April. Clear­ly, all the cin­e­matog­ra­phers of the Rwan­dan geno­cide have strug­gled with the (re-)creation of a nar­ra­tive that is not only based in his­tor­i­cal­ly true facts, but must also be believ­able as his­to­ry as it devel­ops in front of its view­ers. Their films are steeped in a rhetoric of his­tor­i­cal con­vic­tion, pro­mul­gat­ed by means of direct his­tor­i­cal doc­u­men­tary quo­ta­tion or his­tor­i­cal expla­na­tion in their pro­logues and epi­logues. Many of these pre­am­ble sum­maries or con­clud­ing com­men­taries com­prise gross gen­er­al­iza­tions that present the con­flict as a trib­al clash between two homo­ge­neous groups. I agree with Dauge-Roth’s con­clu­sion of his analy­sis of a num­ber of films, that these pre- and post- filmic anno­ta­tions have an imme­di­ate impact on the spectator’s heuris­tic frame­work. They cre­ate “the promise … of a com­mu­nal­ly shared ratio­nal­i­ty and moral­i­ty, which is at least encour­ag­ing to view­ers as they are about to real­ize that by def­i­n­i­tion, geno­cide desta­bi­lizes the very idea of shared human­i­ty in its nega­tion of a part of human­i­ty” (208).

In the sec­ond part of this dis­cus­sion, we will now have a clos­er look at one film in par­tic­u­lar, which responds in a very spe­cif­ic way to some of the chal­lenges out­lined above. Robert Favreau’s Un dimanche à Kigali is a film that, like most oth­ers, presents a coher­ent sto­ry, as seen through the eyes of a white per­son resid­ing in Rwan­da. The movie is an adap­ta­tion of Que­bec author Gil Courtemanche’s nov­el Un dimanche à la piscine à Kigali, which was first pub­lished in 2000 and was quick­ly trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish and a hand­ful of oth­er lan­guages. The nov­el has been wide­ly cri­tiqued —often negatively—about its graph­ic descrip­tions of vio­lence and espe­cial­ly its remark­able sex­u­al­iza­tion of this vio­lence. My own analy­sis of the nov­el con­cludes with a nod to its ambiva­lent suc­cess of restora­tion and rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the events it is steeped in, and warns of the ongo­ing dis­po­si­tion in crit­i­cal analy­sis to search for an essen­tial truth in cul­tur­al dis­course on the geno­cide (Defra­eye).  Heike Härt­ing, how­ev­er, refers to the book’s “porno­graph­ic gaze” and “porno­graph­ic rhetoric” (2008, p. 69-70) to denote the novelist’s rad­i­cal choic­es for a sex­u­al­ized lan­guage of vio­lence. In com­par­i­son to the book, Favreau’s 2006 filmic adap­ta­tion is fair­ly tame, and while there is cer­tain­ly sex, blood, and vio­lence, their graph­ic dis­play through­out the movie –in con­trast to Courtemanche’s novel—is con­tained and quite lim­it­ed, per­haps more con­tained even than in any of the oth­er geno­cide movies that have been pro­duced. It may well have been a cau­tious attempt by the director/adaptor not to be sub­ject­ed to the same accu­sa­tions of being obsessed with imagery of sex and vio­lence. Like the nov­el, the film the­ma­tizes the notion of filmic doc­u­men­ta­tion as a meta-filmic motif that comes back through­out the movie. Courte­manche pref­aces his nov­el with the notice : “Ce roman est un roman. Mais c’est aus­si une chronique et un reportage” (Un dimanche 9), thus under­lin­ing the tes­ti­mo­ni­al func­tion of his writ­ing. In Patri­cia Claxton’s Eng­lish trans­la­tion of the nov­el, “reportage” is turned into “eye-wit­ness report” (A Sun­day vii), which fore­grounds even more the authen­tic and reli­able nature of his writ­ing, as well as its reveal­ing poten­cy. The nov­el­ist wants to present a his­tor­i­cal indict­ment against the per­pe­tra­tors of the vio­lence —there is no doubt in the nov­el that these are the rad­i­cal­ized Hutus — and against the shame­ful fail­ure of the out­side world to mean­ing­ful­ly attempt to pre­empt or inter­vene.

While Favreau’s Un dimanche à Kigali does have a doc­u­men­tary func­tion, it does not have the same indig­nant tone as the nov­el, most­ly because the film’s nar­ra­tive is focused on the recon­struc­tion of the love-sto­ry between the two main char­ac­ters. The film is book-end­ed with the fran­tic search of pro­tag­o­nist Bernard Val­court, return­ing to Kigali at the end of the eth­nic vio­lence, try­ing to find out what hap­pened to his Rwan­dese fiancée, whom he was vio­lent­ly sep­a­rat­ed from dur­ing their fran­tic get­away at the out­break of the eth­nic vio­lence three months ear­li­er. Val­court is a mid­dle aged Cana­di­an jour­nal­ist (played by Que­be­cois actor Luc Picard), who has spent three months in Rwan­da to make a video doc­u­men­tary on the AIDS cri­sis, only to find him­self caught up in the polit­i­cal and per­son­al quag­mire of geno­ci­dal aggres­sion. While he hangs around at Kigali’s posh Hotel des Mille Collines, he falls in love with a young and slen­der Rwan­dese wait­ress, named Gen­tille Sibo­mana (played by Sene­galese Fatou N’Diaye), who has a stereo­typ­i­cal­ly Tut­si appear­ance, but car­ries a Hutu stamp in her pass­port, which of course, is tak­en away from her at one of the many check­points we go through in the film, so as to make her ultra-vul­ner­a­ble for the upcom­ing onslaught. Val­court and Sibo­mana, inci­den­tal­ly, are two of the very few char­ac­ters in the film with a fam­i­ly name. Valcourt’s sur­name is spread all over the film, often pre­ced­ed by the epi­thet “Mon­sieur,” and thus becomes a very pub­lic iden­ti­ty. We get to know him more as Val­court, than by his first name, Bernard. Gentille’s.surname, on the oth­er hand, is said only twice and fleet­ing­ly in two inti­mate and pri­vate moments between the two lovers: once dur­ing a mock wed­ding cer­e­mo­ny, and a sec­ond time dur­ing his offer­ing of a wed­ding ring to her. Just about all the oth­ers char­ac­ters, Mau­rice, Rock, Emeri­ta, Vic­tor, Raphael, Manu, Célestin, Agathe, Cyprien,  Mod­este, Désirée, Élise … black or white, vic­tims or per­pe­tra­tors, only have a first name. For the view­er, it makes it a chal­leng­ing nar­ra­tive to fol­low just in terms of under­stand­ing who is who. But most of all, its impact is on the emblem­at­ic func­tion of the film. What it does is, on the one hand, lev­el out the sto­ry of the geno­cide so that the fable affects every­body, irre­spec­tive of who they are, or the name they have, or their race or eth­nic­i­ty, and, on the oth­er hand, it actu­al­ly indi­vid­u­al­izes the sto­ry to very spe­cif­ic indi­vid­u­als –with a first name and a face, a smile, and a par­tic­u­lar impres­sion they make on us, the spec­ta­tor. One indi­vid­ual in the film is not named at all, though his name is para­dox­i­cal­ly the best known of all: gen­er­al Roméo Dal­laire, mil­i­tary head of UNAMIR, the Unit­ed Nations’ inad­e­quate and fee­ble mil­i­tary pres­ence in Rwan­da at the time of the out­break of vio­lence. The first long shot we have of him, in a long con­fronta­tion with Val­court, is of his back, while he’s look­ing out of his office win­dow at a tense Kigali: the back of a white man in uni­form, no name, and a self-declared friend of the Rwan­dese. Val­court came to plead for a more pro-active engage­ment and for the pro­tec­tion of his best friend Manu, the lat­ter appar­ent­ly mod­eled after the Rwan­dese politi­cian-busi­ness­man Landouald­. The con­fronta­tion between Dal­laire and Val­court is a bleak scene, which high­lights Dallaire’s impo­tence to do any­thing real­ly pre­ven­ta­tive, yet it also fore­grounds the soldier’s indig­na­tion and inter­nal rage, which again is mod­eled after Roméo Dallaire’s post-geno­ci­dal pub­lic activism. The lack of a name of this white man in uni­form, apart from the name being redun­dant, as espe­cial­ly the Que­be­cois and Cana­di­an tar­get audi­ence of the film would have instant­ly rec­og­nized their gen­er­al (played by well-estab­lished Que­be­cois actor Guy Thau­vette), under­scores the metonymic func­tion of Dal­laire as a west­ern­er who wit­ness­es and knows, and has the the­o­ret­i­cal pow­er to inter­vene, but lacks the polit­i­cal and finan­cial com­mit­ment and means to do just that. Instead, he just stands by, his back to the cam­era, look­ing on the cap­i­tal of a coun­try he pro­fess­es to have a deep love for.

It is no coin­ci­dence that in this very same sequence, Val­court emphat­i­cal­ly declares the fam­i­ly name of two oth­er peo­ple: that of Cyprien and Georgina Mun­yanko­re.   He found them bru­tal­ly slaugh­tered, togeth­er with their child, in the pre­ced­ing scene by the Inter­a­hamwe (Hutu) mili­tia.  Apart from Gen­tille, these are the only Rwan­dese fic­tion­al char­ac­ters in the film that are iden­ti­fied y their full names,[8] and their per­locu­tion­ary being named is a stark con­trast to the thou­sands and thou­sands of anony­mous corpses left by the vio­lent tor­rent of geno­cide. The con­sis­tent use of first names is even implau­si­bly main­tained in Père Louis’ break­ing of his con­fes­sion­al vows, when he declares in front of Valcourt’s video-cam­era how Théon­este, one of the Rwan­dese Colonel’s has con­fessed the total exter­mi­na­tion plans of all Tutsi’s and mod­er­ate Hutus, not spar­ing any­one, not even women and chil­dren, and giv­ing pri­or­i­ty to kill any­one in lead­er­ship, includ­ing “Emanuel, Faustin, the prime min­is­ter Agathe… .” Again only first names are used, though Val­court seeks quick con­fir­ma­tion in this par­tic­u­lar case that père Louis indeed refers to the his­tor­i­cal Théon­este Bag­ga­so­ra, a retired army offi­cer who was in charge of the Inter­a­hamwe at the time of the out­break of vio­lence. Père Louis’s coura­geous tes­ti­mo­ny —“it is too late to be too scrupu­lous, ” he jus­ti­fies break­ing the sacra­ment of con­fes­sion he is bound to — pro­vides Val­court with a pow­er­ful doc­u­ment. When Père Louis asks him to take a pen and note-pad, Val­court says: “I have some­thing far bet­ter than that!” and takes out his video cam­era. The video­taped tes­ti­mo­ni­al that fol­lows becomes a cen­tral scene in the film for sev­er­al rea­sons, as it demon­strates that the immi­nent atroc­i­ties had been well orga­nized and pre­pared, but also that knowl­edge about the geno­cide was avail­able before­hand for out­side observers. How­ev­er, more inter­est­ing­ly, it also high­lights the pow­er of filmic report­ing itself in these cir­cum­stances. For Val­court this is a cru­cial doc­u­ment in his engage­ment to help pre­vent the, in his mind, uni­lat­er­al vio­lence. That same evening, he is on the phone with Mon­tre­al to have Père Louis’s insid­er infor­ma­tion tak­en up by the inter­na­tion­al press, though, not sur­pris­ing­ly, it is hard­ly acknowl­edged or appre­ci­at­ed by that same press (and its con­sumers), and the tes­ti­mo­ni­al itself fails in its incrim­i­nat­ing pow­er because of the improb­a­ble use of only first names. This demon­stra­tion of Valcourt’s impo­tent efforts reminds us of an ear­li­er taped inter­view with his friend Cyprien, just before the latter’s vio­lent assas­si­na­tion. Cyprien admon­ish­es him to leave the coun­try imme­di­ate­ly, so as to save Gen­tille. When Val­court coun­ters that he owes his many friends the suc­cess­ful com­ple­tion of the doc­u­men­tary he is work­ing on, Cyprien reminds him that “Cam­eras are no match to machetes,” while we hear the stri­dent slo­gans and demon­stra­tions of the Inter­a­hamwe approach­ing in the back­ground. The over­whelm­ing impres­sion then is indeed that Val­court, armed with his video­cam­era, blind­ly and naive­ly failed to save his trea­sured Gen­tille from the mur­der­ous vio­lence that is surg­ing all around them. Film­mak­er Robert Favreau trun­cates his movie with reg­u­lar video­taped sequences tak­en by Robert Val­court him­self as part of the latter’s pro­fes­sion­al pre­oc­cu­pa­tion of mak­ing a doc­u­men­tary on AIDS in Rwan­da. These inser­tions allow the movie to have a very flex­i­ble time ref­er­ence, com­pris­ing the time before the actu­al start of the movie, when Val­court returns to the killing field in order to try to find his Gen­tille or what became of her. We are alert­ed of this kind of doc­u­men­ta­tion with­in the film by the red-coloured “Rec” or green “Play” in a cor­ner of the image. Favreau’s tech­nique cer­tain­ly under­scores the mon­tage char­ac­ter of the film, and thus reminds us of its post-fac­tum arti­fi­cial­i­ty, and may well help to cre­ate the con­di­tions for some kind of aes­thet­ic dis­tanc­ing so as not to get lost too much in the antic­i­pa­to­ry dynam­ic of sus­pense the film inevitably cre­ates, as under­scored for instance by the fair­ly tra­di­tion­al use of music for spe­cif­ic kinds of scenes through­out the movie. Valcourt’s cam­era work is a form of archiv­ing, and thus gains polit­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance with­in the project of doc­u­ment­ing a geno­cide, which, as we know, remained large­ly invis­i­ble to the out­side world. Yet, what we see in these his­tor­i­cal inser­tions in the movie, apart from the more inti­mate memen­tos of Gen­tille, are most­ly inter­views with wit­ness­es and role-play­ers of the Rwan­dan scene. While Valcourt’s videog­ra­phy cer­tain­ly reminds us of the restora­tive nature of the geno­cide film in gen­er­al, at the same time, it also under­scores its paral­y­sis to do just that.

His fail­ure to doc­u­ment any of the actu­al vio­lence is a good reminder of geno­cide sur­vivor Inno­cent Rwililiza’s point that geno­ci­dal vio­lence can­not be pho­tographed. This is indeed the case in more ways than one in this film. There is, of course first, and fore­most the prac­ti­cal improb­a­bil­i­ty of the mur­der­ous act being avail­able to be filmed, apart from the noto­ri­ous and covert 3-min­utes of doc­u­men­tary film shot by Nick Hugh­es (cf. supra). A movie, one might say, with all its tricks and tech­ni­cal pos­si­bil­i­ties, may then be an ide­al means for a recon­struc­tive answer to this lacu­na. Yet, there is also the pure­ly inti­mate aspect of death and dying that Rwililiza refers to, par­tic­u­lar­ly when it con­cerns a vio­lent death. Film­ing a butcher­ing of anoth­er human being con­tains an unavoid­able facet of obscen­i­ty, and incrim­i­nates not only the per­pe­tra­tor as exe­cu­tion­er, but also impli­cates the gaz­ing film­mak­er in this obscene incrim­i­na­tion as facil­i­ta­tor. It is no dif­fer­ent with­in the frame­work of a fic­tion­al tale. Bernard Val­court, with his priv­i­leged sta­tus of inter­na­tion­al co-oper­ant, des­per­ate­ly wants to avoid being a facil­i­ta­tor of the vio­lence he sees emerg­ing around him, and hopes the one weapon he has, his cam­era, can weigh in on the events. Not so, of course: while Val­court des­per­ate­ly stays in Rwan­da in order to try to doc­u­ment, and hope­ful­ly help to pre­vent the worst-pos­si­ble sce­nario, he remains pow­er­less and utter­ly with­out any impact with his cam­era. His actions, in oth­er words, are a con­crete show­ing of the notion of white guilt that sur­rounds the after­math of the geno­cide, of not hav­ing inter­vened, while per­haps the inten­tion was there, and cer­tain­ly the good will, but not the where­with­al, and even less the  putting one­self on the line. The spec­ta­tor knows (and puts his or her hope in that knowl­edge) that Valcourt’s Cana­di­an pass­port (and pack of dol­lars) remains a stead­fast way-out tick­et, as it even­tu­al­ly and unavoid­ably is, in stark con­trast to the fate of his beloved Gen­tille.

Though A Sun­day in Kigali sure­ly makes us stand still and reflect on the events pre­sent­ed in the film, it fore­grounds the camera’s pow­er­less­ness to inter­vene or pre­vent. More­over, in its focus on wit­ness-doc­u­men­tarist Bernard Val­court, the film is ground­ed in the fail­ure of the cam­era to cap­ture any­thing tru­ly essen­tial about the Rwan­dan geno­cide. As Susan Son­tag reminds us: “Har­row­ing pho­tographs do not inevitably lose their pow­er to shock. But they are not much help if the task is to under­stand” (89). Favreau’s reflex­ive strat­e­gy of con­stant inser­tion of Valcourt’s video­taped frag­ments draws our focus away from the account of actu­al vio­lence that we think of as the theme of the film, and makes us re-focus on the re-pre­sen­ta­tion itself of this geno­cide, as opposed to being lost in the charms of mimet­ic real­ism of a pseu­do-present with­in a chrono­log­i­cal nar­ra­tive. This reflex­ive approach also under­mines the spectator’s posi­tion as a con­sumer of vio­lence, a per­spec­tive for which we have been well trained by tele­vi­sion and movies alike.

If the actu­al theme of A Sun­day in Kigali is its own fail­ure to say any­thing real­ly mean­ing­ful and authen­tic about the geno­ci­dal vio­lence, how then does the movie deal with the car­nage of the geno­cide? As already indi­cat­ed, the actu­al vio­lence shown in the film is fair­ly con­tained, and sure­ly in com­par­i­son to the book on which the movie is based, it seems like Favreau, who also wrote the screen­play for his film, put Courtemanche’s nov­el through a major cleans­ing fil­ter. The group-rape and butcher­ing of Georgina and Cyprien are among the most graph­ic in the entire movie, and even these scenes are more sug­ges­tive than any­thing else. The blood­ied back of Georgina on a mat­tress on the floor, and a close-up of a cou­ple of machete blows that land on the back of Cyprien are suf­fi­cient to indi­cate what is hap­pen­ing in a stark­ly con­cise and short sequence. Favreau shows us the bru­tal casu­al­ness of the vio­lence of its per­pe­tra­tors. His main inter­est, how­ev­er, is the trau­mat­ic impact of this blood­shed. When Val­court and Gen­tille vis­it Cyprien’s house the next morn­ing, they are con­front­ed with the muti­lat­ed corpses of both par­ents as well as their chil­dren. Val­court finds a torn pho­to­graph of the fam­i­ly, which he lat­er crude­ly tapes togeth­er as the only visu­al proof of the very exis­tence of these peo­ple, while the sutures of the restora­tion will be a per­ma­nent reminder of the mur­der­ous rup­ture. Gen­tille stum­bles on sym­bol­i­cal­ly-named Désirée, one of Georgina’s chil­dren, who sur­vived the mas­sacre by hid­ing under a bed. She will adopt the girl as her own.

The film also sug­gests vio­lence and aggres­sion at road-checks, with agi­tat­ed men wield­ing machetes, and glimpses of piles of bloody corpses in the back­ground, though they are hard­ly ever a major focal point in the cin­e­matog­ra­phy. This is in great con­trast with oth­er Rwan­dan geno­cide films. Michael Caton-Jones’ Shoot­ing Dogs, for instance, a film which also fore­grounds the prob­lem of doc­u­ment­ing vio­lence, con­tains a scene in which the young main char­ac­ter Joe wit­ness­es a mid­dle aged man being slaugh­tered with a cou­ple of machete blows, while he him­self and the BBC team he is trav­el­ling with is also grave­ly threat­ened by a road patrol. Caton-Jones’ mas­ter­ful cam­era-work and com­po­si­tion in this scene reg­is­ters Joe’s ini­tia­to­ry fas­ci­na­tion with the mur­der­ous act, thus rep­re­sent­ing the film’s spec­ta­tor with whom he shares a com­pul­sive need to watch. The ambushed BBC team, fur­ther­more, are par­a­lyzed in their doc­u­men­tary mis­sion to show and have peo­ple look by the mili­tia-men, who pre­vent them from film­ing what can­not be filmed but should be filmed. More impor­tant­ly, their imme­di­ate sur­vival from this har­row­ing sit­u­a­tion seems, pre­cise­ly, to hinge on their NOT look­ing at the mur­der­ous scene that mate­ri­al­izes around them, and from which they can hard­ly divert their gaze. Anoth­er occa­sion for which the image of the pierced eye illus­trates the visu­al poet­ics and its affect, as if we are con­demned to watch with a gaz­ing eye from which the reti­na is fold­ed out.

How­ev­er skill­ful­ly done by actors and cam­era­men, the con­sump­tion of these vio­lent episodes in films on geno­cide remains prob­lem­at­ic. While the authen­tic is not avail­able, or if avail­able must be dealt with extreme respect and cau­tion, the re-enact­ment inevitably pro­duces an obscene dynam­ic between what is shown and the his­tor­i­cal grue­some event that it is mod­eled on, as well as between the image and its con­sumers. Indeed, the obscen­i­ty of such imagery makes them lit­er­al­ly ob-scene, or off the stage, which means that they belong to a cul­tur­al dis­course that is tra­di­tion­al­ly obscured or exclud­ed, except with­in the con­text of pre­cise­ly that re-enact­ment where their inau­then­tic char­ac­ter makes them ready for legit­i­mate con­sump­tion. It is a sort of con­sump­tion for which we have been well trained, as this kind of imagery is more or less the basic diet in our con­tem­po­rary cul­tur­al inges­tion. British play­wright Edward Bond, whose plays often the­ma­tize what he calls our extreme­ly vio­lent­ly struc­tured west­ern soci­ety, uses cru­el­ty on the stage quite often in his plays -  "I write about vio­lence as nat­u­ral­ly as Jane Austen wrote about man­ners" (3) – and gives it a ther­a­peu­tic func­tion, thus aim­ing at shak­ing the audi­ence emo­tion­al­ly. Bond’s so-called Aggro-effects are akin to ter­ror­ist tac­tics, their use equal­ly jus­ti­fied "by the des­per­a­tion of the sit­u­a­tion" (113).  While the sit­u­a­tion was pos­i­tive­ly more des­per­ate in Rwan­da in 1994 than in Bond’s indus­tri­al hin­ter­land of the British mid­lands in the ear­ly sev­en­ties, using this hyper-real­ism on the stage has cer­tain­ly a very dif­fer­ent impact on the spec­ta­tors in the the­atre than on a film audi­ence. A Sun­day in Kigali tells the sto­ry of a quest for this vio­lence, as it becomes Valcourt’s explic­it mis­sion to find out what hap­pened to Gen­tille. More­over, it is also a quest for a for­mat of this vio­lence, or a form in which it can be com­pre­hend­ed, shown, and remem­bered so that its vic­tims can also be remem­bered and actu­al­ly be re-con­sti­tut­ed from their anni­hi­la­tion.

Courtemanche’s nov­el con­tains a par­tic­u­lar­ly vio­lent sequence toward the end of the book, as we learn about Gentille’s suf­fer­ing at the hands of her tor­tur­er Mod­este, who, not inci­den­tal­ly, is Valcourt’s ex-cam­era­man. In con­trast, Favreau’s movie adap­ta­tion presents us with a high­ly medi­at­ed and sug­ges­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tion of this vio­lence, and it is worth­while to briefly com­pare. In the nov­el, after his return to Kigali as the forces of the Rwan­dese Patri­ot­ic Front sweep through the cap­i­tal, Val­court even­tu­al­ly gets Gentille’s scrib­bled diary in his hands, and as read­ers of Courtemanche’s nov­el, we get a grad­ual recon­struc­tion of her grue­some ordeal – though, the end is left hang­ing, as the work­book entries stop with a quo­ta­tion from Paul Élouard’s Le Temps débor­de: “We shall not grow old togeth­er / … My love so light now has the weight of tor­ture” (2004, p. 247). Impor­tant here is that as read­ers, we acquire knowl­edge of Gentille’s cru­el demise in a cumu­la­tive way through sev­er­al fil­ters: that of nov­el­ist Courte­manche, whose omni­science fills in the gory details of the woman’s hor­rif­ic demise, that of the read­er Val­court, whose recon­struc­tive need to know what hap­pened is insa­tiable, and not in the least, the appar­ent calm words from the vic­tim her­self, Gen­tille, jot­ted down as haunt­ing frag­ments in her diary. In his film adap­ta­tion, Favreau does not use a diary. Instead, he has Val­court stum­ble into the house and shed where Gen­tille has been kept cap­tive by Mod­este. Through a visu­al re-assem­bly of three time ref­er­ences, which con­stant­ly alter­nate, we are wit­ness to both Gentille’s and Valcourt’s point zero: the method­i­cal, per­sis­tent and extend­ed rape and even­tu­al muti­la­tion by Mod­este and his Hutu Pow­er zealots. Present-time sequences of Val­court han­dling a soiled bit of dress, left on the floor as the only mate­r­i­al left of the 24-year old woman, and emp­ti­ly reach­ing out to her bloody imprints on the wall, alter­nate with the journalist’s own video­tap­ing of their court­ing, in which they had both decid­ed to go for an oppor­tunis­tic meet­ing of old ver­sus young, white ver­sus black, afflu­ent ver­sus poor: the stuff that Hol­ly­wood is made of, but now pre­sent­ed as an ide­al, nev­er reached. In these video-frag­ments, Gentille’s smile of the past, which looks so much for­ward to the future, haunts the image of dark smudges of blood on the wall, with her voice in the back­ground between hys­ter­i­cal suf­fer­ing, and defi­ant erot­ic laugh­ter, Favreau’s response to Courtemanche’s nov­el, where we read in her diary: “I’ve looked for plea­sure in my pain” (247).  The film’s mon­tage of this rev­e­la­to­ry sequence is com­plet­ed with the inser­tion of care­ful­ly con­struct­ed shots of Gentille’s rape and tor­ture, which we nev­er get to see, but instead is insert­ed in frag­men­tary bits with hard­ly ever a direct expo­sure. The rape and tor­ture is del­i­cate­ly medi­at­ed by means of shad­ows shots, and frames of Gentille’s back as she is ruth­less­ly vio­lat­ed. These frag­ments are voiced over with Gentillle’s words, which Robert Val­court hears in his head, the lat­ter being the equiv­a­lent of her diary and Paul Élouard’s verse in the nov­el. Thus, Val­court, togeth­er with the view­er, fig­u­ra­tive­ly recon­struct and relive her suf­fer­ing, but do so while not see­ing, and not know­ing, on a pure­ly imag­i­na­tive lev­el. We get a filmic con­struc­tion of the pierced eye metonym, where we are anx­ious­ly watch­ing what is wound­ing us, and thus can­not be watched.  That it is cam­era­man Mod­este who wields the machete just com­pletes the metonymic trope of the unwatch­able see-able. Robert Favreau’s mise-en-scène and Pierre Mignot’s cam­er­a­work here respond in a fas­ci­nat­ing way to the notion that geno­ci­dal vio­lence is always by def­i­n­i­tion obscured, and thus doc­u­ment the genocide’s dou­ble oblit­er­a­tion: its mur­dered vic­tims, as well as its obscured remem­brance. The sequences of Gentille’s tor­ture, as Dauge-Roth points out, are indeed “a metonymy for the genocide’s per­pe­tra­tion” and fore­ground pri­mar­i­ly the inad­e­qua­cy of what he calls “real­ism and its ide­o­log­i­cal trompe l’œil” (231). While togeth­er with Val­court, we want to know, recom­pose and recon­struct those past events, even to the point of voyeurism, such a project is doomed to fail.  Remem­brance can only hap­pen through medi­a­tion, which is most­ly a process of fig­u­ra­tion. The impact of this fig­u­ra­tion is such that it may increase the haunt­ing effect of that remem­brance.

Favreau’s film, it has become clear, departs in many ways from Courtemanche’s nov­el. It does so, how­ev­er, most dras­ti­cal­ly at its very con­clu­sion. In both film as well as nov­el, Gen­tille ends up dead, but emphat­i­cal­ly lives on in Valcourt’s mem­o­ry. In the book, weak­ened by AIDS and oth­er infec­tions, and iso­lat­ed because of her dis­fig­u­ra­tion and muti­la­tion, she dies of a sud­den pneu­mo­nia attack: “She is buried under the great fig tree that shades the hotel swim­ming pool” (Courte­manche, A Sun­day 258). In the film adap­ta­tion, Robert Val­court con­tin­ues his quest for Gen­tille in search of the facts of her demise, and ends up in her native vil­lage, where he had ear­li­er asked her father for her hand. He meets Désirée, the girl that sur­vived the bloody onslaught of her par­ents Cyprien and Georgina, and who now, in a role-rever­sal, takes care of her fos­ter moth­er, Gen­tille who some­how has been able to make her way back to her vil­lage. Dis­fig­ured, infect­ed and infec­tious, death­ly ill, and hard­ly human, in her father’s burnt-out house, which is sit­u­at­ed in an area which oth­er­wise looks like par­adise, she reminds Val­court of his promise “not to leave her behind,” result­ing in an altru­is­tic killing: Val­court smoth­ers her, lying in his arms, with a pil­low over her face.[9] In con­trast to the ear­li­er mon­tage and obscu­ra­tion of the rape and tor­ture – a death that can­not be remembered—this hap­pens in tra­di­tion­al real­ist style, re-enact­ed in front of Favreau’s cam­era and part of the main sto­ry of the film. This scene tells us that death is most cer­tain­ly avail­able for the cam­era to be filmed, though only that kind of death in which one has some agency. Here are two human beings, who, while cor­nered because of cir­cum­stances, have tak­en a deci­sion that acquires pub­lic con­se­quence and weight. It also brings about a remark­ably diverse dis­tri­b­u­tion of death in the film, where peo­ple die of AIDS –Valcourt’s ini­tial focus at the begin­ning of his jour­ney, when we learn that, unof­fi­cial­ly, close to 35% of Kigali’s pop­u­la­tion is seropos­i­tive, with disc-jock­ey Rock’s spun out demise ear­ly on in the film serv­ing as an emblem­at­ic occur­rence of this kind of death. As the film goes on, death as the result of geno­ci­dal atroc­i­ty occu­pies the cen­tral place, and diverts Valcourt’s focus away from AIDS for most of the filmic nar­ra­tive. Final­ly, as is the case with Gen­tille, some peo­ple die through an act of love – Valcourt’s final resolve in which he keeps his promise not to leave her behind. It is remark­able that in a film on the Rwan­dan geno­cide, the only sort of death that is exten­sive­ly shown, in full real­ist aes­thet­ics, is the lat­ter one: Gentille’s calm, called-for and delib­er­ate, tear­ful death on a grub­by bed, in the arms of her lover.

The film ends then, with Val­court car­ry­ing Gentille’s corpse out­side of the som­bre hut, into the yard of her father’s home, where she is to be buried. Val­court is joined by Désirée, and we get a panop­tic view of the par­a­disi­ac sur­round­ings of this coun­try of a thou­sand hills, this “lit­tle Switzer­land in Africa,” which is now shock­ing­ly emp­ty of peo­ple, after 100 days of hell, leav­ing scars every­where. Favreau uses light in a very spe­cial way in his film, and it acquires a major semi­otic func­tion as a sort of for­mal mise-en-abyme. Through­out the film, all scenes that are in the per­for­ma­tive present and doc­u­ment Valcourt’s return after the vio­lence, and his quest for Gen­tille are filmed through a light fil­ter, mak­ing them dull and grey, show­ing a coun­try in mourn­ing, with poignant­ly gloomy and dim colours. This is how the film starts, as Val­court com­mences his quest for answers. The drea­ry effect is in great con­trast to both Valcourt’s videog­ra­phy, as well as the scenes in which we flash­back to the time lead­ing up to the out­burst of vio­lence, which shows a coun­try and peo­ple marked by spright­ly, vivid colours, the green of its lush veg­e­ta­tion con­spic­u­ous­ly jump­ing to the eye. The film ends, how­ev­er, in full colour, with­out the dulling fil­ter, with the brighter inner tem­po­ral frames tak­ing over the gloomy present in a bright sym­bio­sis. Val­court places his video-cam­era on Gentille’s grave-mound, and plays the vivid colours of his video­clips, show­ing Gen­tille and Désirée ful­ly and stun­ning­ly beau­ti­ful­ly alive, while the two sur­vivors and Désirée and Val­court, black and white, young and old, orphan and wid­ow­er, native and for­eign­er, look on in per­fect har­mo­ny, against the back­drop of the vibrant colours of the ver­dant thou­sands hills, reflect­ing the cen­tral pre-geno­cide tem­po­ral frame­work of the film. To use an ear­li­er trope, the watch­ing dou­ble-lay­ered eye of the view­er is now restored, no longer pierced by maim­ing steel, even the lac­er­a­tions’ sutures seem now to have healed.

Dauge-Roth finds in this con­clud­ing scene an emphat­ic state­ment of the camera’s pow­er serv­ing the neces­si­ty to remem­ber, and keep­ing the mem­o­ry afresh:  an anti­dote against “oblit­er­a­tion” and the “ide­ol­o­gy of denial” (234). It is cer­tain­ly a grip­ping mise-en-abyme, in which the film’s dif­fer­ent tem­po­ral as well as nar­ra­tive frames come togeth­er touch­ing­ly. How­ev­er, to end a film on one of the most trag­ic socio-polit­i­cal con­flicts in human his­to­ry in this kind of inti­mate memo­ri­al­iza­tion also comes at a cost. While Robert Favreau seems to sug­gest that geno­ci­dal vio­lence can­not be pho­tographed nor filmed, he also empha­sizes the camera’s abil­i­ty to nar­rate and con­jure the sub­jec­tive sto­ry. The film has lit­tle room for polit­i­cal ref­er­enc­ing and expli­ca­tion, which is per­haps best illus­trat­ed by its con­sis­tent use of first names, also when it con­cerns char­ac­ters that are mod­eled after real-life play­ers and agents in the con­flict. Yet, there is sub­tle and con­sis­tent inclu­sion of his­tor­i­cal fac­tors, such as the hate-broad­casts of Radio Télévi­sion Libre des Mille Collines, the shoot­ing down of Habyarimana’s air­plane, the AIDS epi­dem­ic, and, rather hyper­bol­i­cal­ly, the role of the Hotel des Mille Collines as a place of refuge. Yet, in spite of the film’s doc­u­men­tary under­pin­nings, it remains very much an emblem­at­ic excur­sion of one person’s sto­ry, and this is huge­ly empha­sized at the very end, lead­ing some com­men­ta­tors to call the film “myopic” (Pevere). Con­trary to what Dauge-Roth seems to sug­gest, there is very lit­tle “archival val­ue” (234) in A Sun­day in Kigali. The arbi­trari­ness of the title itself, apart from its slight reduc­tion of the novel’s title,[10] is only a first indi­ca­tion of its lack of archival or even doc­u­men­tary val­ue. It tells a grip­ping sto­ry, and does so intel­li­gent­ly, with a good lev­el of self-reflec­tion, and with an à-pro­pos use of filmic sig­nage. How­ev­er, when at the end of the movie, the sym­bi­ot­ic scene between Désirée and Val­court ends the film on a pos­i­tive and hope­ful note, its awk­ward and fri­able point de départ of a white jour­nal­ist telling his sto­ry of not being able to save Rwan­da remains even more dif­fi­cult to embrace. In the end, we won­der who do we need to feel sor­ry for?

In her sum­ma­tion of twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry geno­cides, ‘A Prob­lem from Hell.’ Amer­i­ca and the Age of Geno­cide, Saman­tha Pow­er reminds us of an inci­dent dur­ing the many press con­fer­ences at the U.S. State depart­ment dur­ing the Rwan­da cri­sis. Pru­dence Bush­nell, Deputy Assis­tant Sec­re­tary, had rec­om­mend­ed pro-active and deter­mined inter­ven­tion just weeks before the com­mence­ment of the geno­cide, and gave a press con­fer­ence, on April 8 1994, to warn of the esca­lat­ing vio­lence. The department’s spokesper­son, Michael McCur­ry then took over and cri­tiqued for­eign gov­ern­ments for not heed­ing the mes­sage that was pro­mul­gat­ed in Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List, which he called a must-see so that peo­ple can learn that even one indi­vid­ual can make a dif­fer­ence in such an over­whelm­ing con­flict. He even rec­om­mend­ed that the film, which had been released just the year before, be shown around the globe, as one of the most effi­cient mea­sures to pre­vent the tragedy of geno­cide (392). His pro­mo­tion of a US cul­tur­al prod­uct served most­ly to off­set Bushnell’s implied crit­i­cism of her own gov­ern­ment and its non-action. It also was no sur­prise to hear this spokesper­son pro­mote a for­eign pol­i­cy based on indi­vid­ual hero­ism, as opposed to sus­tained crit­i­cal sup­port of polit­i­cal eman­ci­pa­tion. Be it as it may, his odd rec­om­men­da­tion is also tes­ti­mo­ny to the pow­er of film in our day and age.  A film like A Sun­day in Kigali cer­tain­ly has a strong impact on our memo­ri­al­iza­tion of geno­cide and polit­i­cal vio­lence, but its seduc­tive sub­jec­tiv­i­ty in its own nar­ra­tive also stands in the way of a more his­tor­i­cal­ly based polit­i­cal grasp­ing of what hap­pened lead­ing up to and dur­ing the con­flict. Its great­est mer­it, how­ev­er, is in its admis­sion that film, sim­ply, can­not archive death and the blood that comes with it.

Works Cited

Ball, Karyn. “Unspeak­able Dif­fer­ences, Obscene Plea­sures: The Holo­caust as an Object of Desire.” Women in Ger­man Year­book 19.  2003.  20-49.  Print.

Bond, Edward.  Plays: Two. Lon­don: Methuen, 1978.  Print.

---. “From Ratio­nal­ism to Rhap­sody.”  Inter­view with Christo­pher Innes.  Cana­di­an The­atre Review 23 (1979): 108-13.  Print.

Caton-Jones, Michael.  “Inter­view.” Shoot­ing Dogs. 2006. DVD.

---. Shoot­ing Dogs. Great-Britain-Ger­many. 2005..

Chré­tien, et al.  Rwan­da. Les médias du geno­cide. Paris: Kartha­la, 1995.  Print.

Courte­manche, Gil.  Un dimanche à la piscine à Kigal. Paris: Éd. Denoël, 2000-2003.  Print.

---. A Sun­day at the pool in Kigali.  Trans. Patri­cia Clax­ton.  Toron­to: Vin­tage, 2004.  Print.

Dal­laire, Roméo and Brent Beard­s­ley.  Shake Hands with the Dev­il. Toron­to: Vin­tage, 2004. Print.

Dauge-Roth, Alexan­dre.  Writ­ing and Film­ing the Geno­cide of the Tut­sis in Rwan­da. Lan­ham: Lex­ing­ton, 2010.  Print.

Defra­eye, Piet.  “Twice at Per­il… The Rwan­dan Geno­cide in Cul­tur­al Dis­course. A Sur­vey with Spe­cial Focus on Gil Courtemanche’s Un dimanche à la piscine à Kigali." In Ursu­la Math­is-Moser, ed.  Respon­si­bilty to Pro­tect. Peace­keep­ing, Diplo­ma­cy, Media, and Lit­er­a­ture Respond­ing to Human­i­tar­i­an Chal­lenges. (Cana­di­ana oenipon­tana 11) Inns­brück: Inns­brück UP, 2010.  175-204.  Print.

De Tem­mer­man, Els.  De doden zijn niet dood. Rwan­da, een oogge­tu­igen­ver­slag. Groot Bij­gaar­den (B): Globe, 1994.  Print.

Favreau, Robert. Un dimanche à Kigali.  2008.  DVD.

Härt­ing, Heike.  “Glob­al Human­i­tar­i­an­ism, Race, and the Spec­ta­cle of the African Corpse in Cur­rent West­ern Rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the Rwan­dan Geno­cide.” Com­par­a­tive Stud­ies of South Asia, Africa and the Mid­dle East. 28.1 (2008): 61-77.  Print.

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[1] For a crit­i­cal sur­vey of cul­tur­al dis­course on the Rwan­dan Geno­cide, see my chap­ter Twice at Per­il… The Rwan­dan Geno­cide in Cul­tur­al Dis­course,. A Sur­vey with Spe­cial Focus on Gil Courtemanche’s ‘Un dimanche à la piscine à Kigali’ Ursu­la Msthis-Moser (ed.), Respon­si­bil­i­ty to Pro­tect (cana­di­ana oenipon­tana 11. Inns­brück, Inns­brück UP, 2012. 175-204

[2] The film was released in North Amer­i­ca under the title Beyond the Gates.

[3] See Ndahi­ro, Alfred and Pri­vat Rutaz­ib­wa, Hotel Rwan­da or the Tut­si Geno­cide as Seen by Hol­ly­wood (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2008).

<aid="_edn4" href="#_ednref4">[4] For a good pre­sen­ta­tion of the role of the Rwan­dese media before the actu­al geno­cide, see Jean-Pierre Chré­tien, et al  Rwan­da. Les médias du geno­cide (Paris: Kartha­la, 1995).

[5] My Dead Moth­er IV (with wide open eyes) in Todts 218.

[6] For the orig­i­nal footage, and Al Thompson’s com­men­tary, see http://​www​.thes​tar​.com/​N​e​w​s​/​I​n​s​i​g​h​t​/​a​r​t​i​c​l​e​/​6​1​6​860.

[7] Nick Hugh­es him­self sug­gests there are actu­al­ly three, as report­ed by Dauge-Roth (222).

[8] Anoth­er fic­tion­al char­ac­ter, Mons. Lamarre, con­spic­u­ous­ly breaks the nam­ing con­ven­tion by being named ONLY by his sur­name. He is Cau­casian, and a rather inept and naive bureau­crat at the Cana­di­an Embassy in Kigali. The cast roll-call at the end of the film stands out because it only uses first names for the char­ac­ters, with the excep­tions men­tioned here.

[9] This scene is remark­ably sim­i­lar to the altru­is­tic killing of the histri­on­ic Count­ess, by her son Val­li­er in John Greyson’s Lilies (1996), anoth­er Que­be­cois film, an adap­ta­tion of Michel Marc Bouchard’s play Les Feluettes (1987).

[10] The novel’s title refers, some­what capri­cious­ly, to the Sun­day after­noon when Val­court and Gen­tille get mar­ried, just before the esca­la­tion of the geno­cide. In the film, they nev­er get mar­ried, apart from a pri­vate pledg­ing between the two of them.

This arti­cle is licensed under a  Cre­ative Com­mons 3.0 License although cer­tain works ref­er­enced here­in may be sep­a­rate­ly licensed, or the author has exer­cised their right to fair deal­ing under the Cana­di­an Copy­right Act.