Sometimes in April (2005) / Drama-War
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG-13 for violence and descriptions of rape
Running Time: 140 min.
Cast: Idris Elba, Carole Karemera, Pamela Nomvete, Oris Erhuero, Debra Winger
Director: Raoul Peck
Screenplay: Raoul Peck
Review published February 18, 2005
Coming just a few months after the theatrical release of the hero's story, Hotel Rwanda, comes a survivor's story, Sometimes in April. Although both films cover very similar territory, both are also important for depicting different aspects of the Rwandan tragedy.
Sometimes in April mostly shows what it was like for those trying to survive outside of the Hotel Des Mille Collines, who have no place else to go, hoping to find some sanctuary in churches or places of public refuge. In harrowing depictions, Haitian writer/director Raoul Peck just shows how the tragedy affected one man, Augustin Muganza (Idris Elba, of HBO's "The Wire"), and his family during the hundred days in the spring of 1994 where the Tutsis were being viciously slaughtered with guns and machetes by the extremist Hutu military, as well as Hutu citizens spurned on by the urgings of the radio to "stomp on the cockroaches", fueling the fans of decades old resentment among the Hutu majority. Although the main story is a work of fiction, many of the events are taken from eyewitness accounts of things that actually happened.
The film starts of in 2004, with Augustin as a school teacher, telling his class of young children about the events of April ten years before. We also learn of Augustin's brother, Honore (Oris Erhuero), who is being tried by the International Criminal Tribunal for his participation in the radio station that encouraged the Hutu citizens and military to continue their genocide of the Tutsis. Most of the film is told in flashback mode, mostly centering on Augustin, his Tutsi wife (Carole Karemera), his two boys, and the Catholic school teacher, Martine (Nomvete), that looked after the welfare of his daughter and the other young girls at the school.
Despite being a made-for-cable production, Sometimes in April never seems to lack in production value, or for quality actors. The performances are solid all around, with very strong roles going to Elba, Karemera, and Nomvete, all of whom are excellent. The violence is very strong in the film, although the movie is never graphic. Most of the depictions of violence or rape are kept off screen, although the small amount that we do see is maddeningly disturbing, despite being only a small fraction as horrific as the real-life acts must have been.
A feeling of authenticity is achieved by actually filming in Rwanda, and especially in many areas where the actual events occurred. The presentation is always top-notch, with very good cinematography from Eric Guichard (Himalaya, The Crazy Stranger), and some very nicely edited sequences where emotions begin to run sky high. Many Rwandans were also called upon to be part in the film, although some must have found it quite trying to reopen wounds that have only just begun to finally heal.
If there is one substantial nitpick I have with Sometimes in April, it is in the depiction of the media relations of the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Prudence Bushnell, played by Debra Winger (Radio, Eulogy). These scenes are mostly needless to Augustin's story, although they do offer a marginally interesting way of showing how the American media (and the world's for that matter) weren't very aware or interested in the mass genocide happening in a small African nation. However, as presented here, the Bushnell scenes aren't nearly as gripping or important as the scenes in Rwanda, and the momentum of the emotional impact ebbs whenever Winger appears onscreen.
Outside of this, Sometimes in April is a disturbing, but ultimately rewarding, tale of survival in the darkest of times. Along with its kin in spirit, Hotel Rwanda, it reminds us of the importance to never turn a blind eye to tragedy wherever it occurs, even if that tragedy is happening in a country we've never heard of, on a continent we've never been to.
©2005 Vince Leo