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29 May 2023

Manhunts, alienation in latest Rwanda genocide film


The latest feature film on the 1994 Rwanda genocide, which premiered here at the weekend, shows in excruciating detail what day-to-day life must have been like for those who survived beyond the first days of the killing.

Belgian director Philippe Van Leeuw shot Le jour ou Dieu est parti en voyage (The Day God Stayed Away) over two months – June to August 2008 – partly in Kigali, partly in the southwestern province of Cyangugu.

The title comes from the saying in Kinyarwanda that God may spend the daylight hours elsewhere, but always comes home to spend the night in Rwanda.

The inference being that the genocide, in which some 800,000 people, essentially minority Tutsis, were killed, happened the time he failed to return. Jacqueline, played by Ruth Nirere, a hitherto unknown Rwandan actress who won several awards for the role, finds her two children slaughtered on the living room floor in the first days of the genocide. As she attempts to wash the bodies she is chased out by neighbours who want to lynch her.

Then begins a life of hiding in the forest, living like an animal, along with another survivor whose wounds she treats, and whose name we never learn. Periodically Hutu militia hear them in the undergrowth and give chase, boasting of those they have already raped and killed.

The film, Van Leeuw's first, has minimal dialogue, partly in Kinyarwanda and partly in French, much of it composed during filming.

"This film shows more or less all the events of the genocide: betrayal by the neighbour, manhunts, the anxiety in the hiding places... and then there is also this will to survive," Theodore Simburudali, who heads the genocide survivors' association Ibuka, said after watching the film.

Outside of Rwanda the film is unlikely to make it on to mainstream screens.

At the premiere Friday two women walked out, unable to stand the scene where Jacqueline finds her children dead.


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