One of the goals of writer-director Alrick Brown's Kinyarwanda, set in the midst of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, is to remind us that ordinary human dramas continue unfolding against the backdrop of unthinkable horrors. So as machete-wielding madmen are slaughtering their countrymen and -women, teenagers are falling in love (even across the very ethnic divisions enflaming the country) and married men are cheating on their wives. Culled from true stories and told elliptically in chapters (i.e., “She's Tutsi/He's Hutu”) that flash back and forward through time, the screenplay is filled with moments both charming and horrifying, sometimes all at once. We see how a teenager's defiance of her parents saves her life, how a little boy's misunderstanding of a mob's fury leads him to bring the mob right to his home, and how a priest betrays the terrified crowd that has gathered in his church for protection, among other tales.
Cast with both professional and novice actors (which results in uneven performances), the beautifully shot film is filled with exquisite moments — a man testifying about his crimes at a tribunal for reconciliation, his remorse wafting thickly off him; a gathering of teens breaking into a sing-along of Kenny Rogers' and Dolly Parton's “Islands in the Stream”; and a wedding whose participants radiate such joy that it tilts the viewer's faith back toward trusting human nature. —Ernest Hardy (Music Hall, Playhouse, Town Center)