While watching Sometimes in April, Raoul Pecks wholly engrossing look at the Rwandan genocide, I contemplated whether the film would've garnered as much acclaim as 2004's Hotel Rwanda (which also dealt with the tragedy) if it had been released prior to it. Afterwards, it didnt take me long to come to the conclusion that no, it wouldn't have. And the reason behind it was quite simple: Sometimes in April was superior in just about every way possible. If that didnt quite make sense, then we first need to acknowledge that most of us love heroic tales of men fighting all odds to preserve peace and stability. While Hotel Rwanda was an important film about the genocide which in 100 days took the lives of nearly 1 million people, no doubt about it, it was also an "action-filled" saga mostly relegated to one man, which didnt adequately allow the film to analyze the situation at large, and from various viewpoints. Pecks film isnt perfect, but it gives us some time and space to think about the various pertinent issues at hand. As Film Comments Olaf Mller rightfully points out, "[Sometime in April] approaches its subject less as a reconstruction than as a postmortem on political memory, carefully delineating the core contradiction and failures lying behind this humanitarian worst-case scenario."
Most will be startled with the similarities the latter bears to the former as it establishes itself early on. Our protagonist, Augustin (Idris Elba), is a Hutu army officer who's ambivalent regarding how to deal with the problem -- which is Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a renegade force mostly made up of Tutsi men who've descended upon them in the past. (It must be mentioned that it was the westerners, in this case the Belgians, who created this disparity between the people under their rule.) But the blood-thirsty Hutus now simply want to take extreme measures by eliminating any Tutsi living among them, along with any moderate Hutus like Augustin. When Hutu president Habyarimanas plane is shot down, the army gets free rein to do whatever they want. Augustins wife (Carole Karemera) happens to be a Tutsi (as was Don Cheadle's wife in Hotel Rwanda), so that creates a dilemma for Augustin. But he ends up convincing his radio-jockey brother (Oris Erhuero), someone who'd been spewing hate speeches, to take his wife to a safe compound, while him and his colleague hide from their former counterparts. Augustin also has a daughter attending a French Catholic school which is considered off-limits at first, but, as we later hear one character say, "This was a war without any rules."
Peck, who previously delved into Africa with his brilliant Lumumba (2000), expertly cuts back and forth between the events from 1994 and the ones from a decade later when Augustins brother is tried at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Tanzania. But instead of making his characters the mouthpieces for moral righteousness, he allows us the opportunity to silently gaze at one of our diplomats trying to explain the difference between "genocide" and "acts of genocide" as the killings go on, while the rest of the world does nothing. Another great sequence involves a young woman at the pristine combines of the council detailing the brutality shes suffered at the hands of those she trusted. Thankfully, Peck doesn't parade a line of worried westerners like they were in Hotel Rwanda; and while he did create the character of a good-hearted American diplomat (Debra Winger), he perhaps did it to please the executives at HBO (films co-producer). The performances are rich and the milieu is as detailed as possible. There are some late dramatics in the film that it couldve done without, but other than Ghosts of Rwanda (2004), the astonishingly thorough PBS documentary on the subject, Sometimes in April is quite possibly the best visual account of this tragedy we have at this point.
*The film premiered at the 2005 Berlin Film Festival (in-competition). Unfortunately, it went straight-to-DVD in the U.S. (Extra Features include: Commentary by Peck; a making-of featurette; a "100 Days of Genocide" timeline, etc.)