Munyurangabo

"Excellent"

Munyurangabo Review


Two friends walk down the road of their village, arms draped around each other. They are young and angular and look similar with the noticeable exception of their clothing: One is dressed in a dirty, black longsleeve while the other wears button-up shirts and sports a backpack. Overhead, a woman sings about love for Rwanda, its hills and its parents.

Such is the opening for Lee Isaac Chung's stunning and impossibly relevant debut Munyurangabo, a film that gets darker and more complex as it digs into the hot earth of Rwanda. Not unlike Carlos Reygadas' Silent Light, Chung sees the poverty-stricken farmlands of a Rwandan village as the ideal place for a morality play infused with cultural strife and a striking authenticity.

Ngabo (Jeff Rutagengwa) searches for work in the village of Kigali with his friend Sangwa (Eric Ndorunkundiye). Ngabo abruptly steals a machete and, suddenly, heads out on the road with his friend on an unspecified journey. It takes them to Sangwa's home, which the young man hasn't visited in three years. His mother (Narcicia Nyirabucyeye) is happy to see him and feeds him fresh milk, but his father (Jean Marie Vianney Nkurikiyinka) gravely dismisses him with "you should have been aborted." Sangwa nonetheless yearns for his father's pride, which he gets after proving himself a hard-worker.

What is talked about very subtly is Ngabo's -- named after the Rwandan warrior Munyurangabo -- ultimate goal: To find and murder the man who killed his father in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Munyurangabo finds its roots in the Tutsi/Hutu divide when Sangwa's father blames Ngabo, a Tutsi, for his suffering and the suffering of his younger children. No more a simple friendship but a blood rivalry, Sangwa sides with his father (and decades of cultural bigotry) and dismisses Ngabo which he comes to regret even as Ngabo accuses Sangwa's father of being a part of the '94 genocide.

In its handling of the emotional and historical implications that have gone into the bedlam that is modern Rwanda, Munyurangabo is nothing short of a revelation, immediately rendering the performance-driven Hotel Rwanda insignificant. Precariously dangling between narrative and documentary, Chung filmed most of Munyurangabo while working as a teacher for a Christian relief camp, and the actors, all vibrant and moving, are non-professionals, the two leads being students of Chung's. The social state of Rwanda and Africa as a whole is laid bare, but rhetoric is never trumpeted nor are intentions easily explained.

In its final quarter, Ngabo finds that a national crisis has taken over his vengeful needs and comes into a town where a poet first encounters him and then begins to recite straight into the camera. Chung's form is fluid and assured and whereas this climactic, riveting moment might feel out of place in any other movie, it blows the doors off the place in Chang's film. As Ngabo leaves Sangwa's village, his erstwhile friend, rejected by his father, attempts to walk beside him as they did at the film's beginning. But Ngabo is through with Sangwa and will have none of it. The real brilliance of Chung's work is that it is intelligent enough to understand where history and blood are built into Rwanda but realistic enough to know that forgiveness is a long way off.

Isn't there a hotel around here?



Munyurangabo

Facts and Figures

Run time: 97 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 15th May 2008

Distributed by: Film Movement

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Fresh: 20 Rotten: 1

IMDB: 7.0 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Lee Isaac Chung

Producer: Lee Isaac Chung

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