Tag Archives: munyurangabo

Best Films of the First Half

There are many reasons to be excited about the newly expanded field of ten best picture Oscar nominees. Among them is the distinct possibility that some films released in the first half of the year might actually get some best picture love. Imagine that! First half releases usually get little in the way of awards recognition.

This year has already seen some very quality films, though my picks are maybe not on the radar (or even available to see) for most people. Alas, they are great films that you should try to see, and chances are some of them will make my top ten list come December (my top two picks from last year’s midyear list ended up making the year-end list).

5) The Brothers Bloom – (from my review): “The Brothers Bloom is a film that is from start to finish adamantly unreal. It exists in a magical story world where heiresses can juggle chainsaws and con men spend their time playing shuffleboard on 1920s-style yachts. But it’s also a film in which people are shown loving each other, laughing, and doing a Bolero dance under the moonlight. It’s a film with beautiful oceans, sunsets, and epiphanies. That is, it’s a film with a good deal of truth.”

4) Goodbye Solo – (from my review): “It’s a film of remarkable restraint and subtle suggestion, where so many “points” aren’t hammered home as much as they are delicately positioned for us to coax them into place. It’s a rare film in the way that it knocks you down without ever having to so much as blow in your direction.”

3) Silent Light – Carlos Reygadas’ masterful, elemental, and largely silent film about Mennonite infidelity in Northern Mexico is one of the most stunning, surprising films I’ve seen in a long time.

2) Munyurangabo – A film about the effects of genocide, tragedy, and war… but also about friendship and renewal and the life-giving purity of nature. It’s tender, mysterious, quiet, and one of the best films about Africa I’ve ever seen.

1) Summer Hours – (from my review): “Summer Hours is about the beauty and meaning of objects. It raises interesting, profound questions about why we treasure certain things and what gives a vase or desk or painting “value.” … But the film is also about life, and how it is so much more than objects and mementos and the bric-a-brac of our everyday accumulations. It’s about the hours we spend with our families, running around on a summer evening in a forest or field, sipping wine or eating quiche. It’s about the love and passion and sadness we share.”

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My Interview With Lee Isaac Chung

In the next couple of weeks, I will be posting my “Best Films of the First Half” list, just as I did last year. High on the list will no doubt be Munyurangabo, a fictional film about post-genocide Rwanda that I saw at the City of Angels Film Festival earlier this year and which totally blew me away (watch the trailer here). I met the film’s director, Lee Isaac Chung, after the screening and later had an in-depth interview with him for Christianity Today. You can read that interview here.

The background of the film is fascinating. In the summer of 2006, Chung went to Rwanda as a volunteer with Youth With a Mission (YWAM), the Christian ministry that his wife Valerie worked for. Chung and Valerie, who had a background in art therapy, decided that their best gift to Rwanda’s youth would be to help them use art to work through the traumas and horrors they’d been through in the 1994 genocide. Chung, who studied film at the University of Utah, wanted to teach filmmaking and allow the kids to tell their own stories, “to let the culture speak for itself.” The result of that summer filmmaking class was Munyurangabo.

But Munyurangabo has since become much more than a class project. The film played at many of the world’s top festivals in 2007 and 2008, including Cannes, Berlin, Toronto, London, and New York. It won the grand jury prize at the AFI Festival in 2008, and has been thoroughly praised by critics. Variety‘s Robert Koehler described it as an “astonishing and thoroughly masterful debut … the finest and truest film yet on the moral and emotional repercussions of the 15-year-old genocide that wracked Rwanda.”

Here are what some other critics have said of the film:

“an intermittently lyrical and genuinely affecting work that at times even emits the shock of the new.” -Elbert Venture, indieWIRE

“Unlike Terry George’s earnestly melodramatic ‘Hotel Rwanda,’ Mr Chung’s film, the first narrative feature in the Kinyarwandan language, leaves the violence off screen and in the past. But the enormity of the 1994 massacres – during which at least 800,000 Tutsis and dissident Hutus were killed, many by their own neighbors acting on the orders of the Hutu nationalist government – is if anything underscored by the absence of graphic physical evidence.” -A.O. Scott, The New York Times

“Among the most remarkable aspects of the film is its total lack of condescension—none of the Noble American putting things straight for the ignorant natives. One would never guess, without prior knowledge, that the film was the work of an outsider. Chung, one might say, has given it to the people of Rwanda, allowing them their voices without intervention—that, certainly, is the impression the film gives, even as its complex narrative structure suggests otherwise.” -Robin Wood, Film Comment

“It‘s the film’s emotional closeness to these two young men, communicated both via cinematographic proximity as well as the narrative’s concentration on their tormented condition, that leaves a gut-wrenching impression, with the sight of their hands and feet packing mud to be used to solidify a house’s crumbling wall, or a conversation in which the camera assumes the position of the listening party, providing a clear window into their beleaguered hearts and minds. Upon reaching his destination, Munyurangabo meets a man who recites (in a fierce single take) a from-the-gut poetic lament for the past and plea for the future. It’s a verse that leads Munyurangabo to question his vengeful aims, though as befitting a film so thoughtfully attuned to the country’s divisive personal and social conflicts, any measure of optimism is ultimately tempered by the understanding that, 14 years after the genocide’s end, Rwanda remains an open wound.” -Nick Schager, Slant