by Scott Foundas
Eleven years [after it happened], the Rwandan genocide continues to intrigue filmmakers, even if the full horror of the bloody events seems too demanding for many of them to confront. Although in many respects a more stylish, authentic, tougher-minded film than "Hotel Rwanda," director Michael Caton-Jones' respectable and well-intentioned "Shooting Dogs" (Beyond the Gates in the U.S.) still falls into the trap of filtering an inherently African story through the eyes of a noble white protagonist -- in this case, two of them. . . .
Like the Hotel des Mille Collines that provided the inspiration for "Hotel Rwanda," the Ecole Technique Officielle was a real place -- a secondary school located in the capital city of Kigali that similarly came to serve as a makeshift shelter for Tutsis and moderate Hutus at the height of the killings. The school, which also served as base camp for a company of Belgian UN peacekeepers, came to harbor some 2,500 refugees until, some five days after the start of the genocide, the UN pulled its troops out of the school, consigning those left behind to the knowledge they would soon be killed.
Slightly fictionalized screenplay by David Wolstencroft unfolds through the eyes of Joe Connor (Hugh Dancy), a young British schoolteacher spending a year at the Ecole. There, he is taken under the wing of the avuncular Father Christopher (John Hurt), whose weary face fails to conceal the ethnic violence he has witnessed during his long African sojourn.
Pic's early sections do an accomplished job of mapping out the simmering tensions between Rwanda's Hutu and Tutsi factions: The bright Tutsi pupil, Marie (Claire-Hope Ashitey), to whom Joe has taken a particular liking, is teased and pelted by Hutu classmates, while the school's Hutu custodian (David Gyasi) is shown to be one of the many Rwandans whose sensibilities have been corrupted by the incessant hate propaganda of the infamous RTLM radio station. Location shooting in Kigali is also a major plus.
In many respects, the character of Joe seems a surrogate for "Shooting Dogs" producer and co-story writer David Belton, who was himself a BBC news cameraman on location in Rwanda in 1994 and who, in the pic's press notes, expresses a feeling of guilt over the speed with which he -- like nearly all other Americans and Europeans -- evacuated the country as soon as the going got tough. . . .
"Shooting Dogs" is unquestionably at its most compelling in its depiction of Father Christopher's steadfast reliance on spirituality, even when confronted with such a startling display of inhumanity. Even as the violence reaches its zenith, he continues to perform Mass and seems more concerned with making sure each child receives Communion than in formulating a possible exit strategy. . . .
With a drawn, harrowed face like a relief map of suffering, Hurt proves one of the pic's chief assets, as does newcomer Ashitey, though Dancy's performance rarely advances beyond one-note outrage. Despite its many shortcomings, pic benefits immeasurably from the fluidity of Caton-Jones' direction and the depth, texture and immediacy of d.p. Ivan Strasburg's lensing.
National Catholic Register Movie Review
by Steven D. GreydanusBeyond the Gates focuses on a Catholic priest named Father Christopher (John Hurt) and an idealistic young teacher Joe Connor (Hugh Dancy) who offer sanctuary to Tutsi refugees at a Christian school near Kigali..
Fr. Christopher and Joe, along with BBC reporter Rachel (Nicola Walker), are fictional composites, but the school is real, along with the substance of the events portrayed in the film. In fact, the film was shot on location at the actual school, the École Technique Officielle, with the active involvement of survivors of the genocide among the cast and crew.
Beyond the Gates played abroad in many markets last year under the title Shooting Dogs, a bitterly ironic reference to the wild dogs shot in the street by Belgian U.N. forces near the school, where the U.N. has set up a base of operations.
The dogs are attracted by Tutsi corpses lying at the feet of the Hutu mob surrounding the school, and the U.N. forces decide that the animals constitute a “health risk.” Fr. Christopher is beside himself over the mendacity of the U.N. forces, which won’t do anything about the murderous mob itself unless directly attacked. “I suppose,” the priest says in a voice dripping caustic fury, “that the dogs were firing on your men.” . . .
Although Michael Caton-Jones’s film focuses on its European protagonists, some of its most haunting moments involve the African characters, particularly a young student named Marie (Claire-Hope Ashitey, Children of Men) and a doomed Tutsi father whose chillingly fatalistic acceptance recalls the title of the book that inspired Hotel Rwanda: We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families. . . .
Essentially, Fr. Christopher is the voice of Western conscience, and Joe is the embodiment of Western guilt. . . .
Refreshingly, Fr. Christopher is equally concerned with the spiritual and temporal well-being of his flock. He insists on the importance of celebrating Mass, and baptizes a newborn baby, but furiously upbraids the Belgian U.N. commanding officer (Dominique Horwitz) for his refusal to take action. . . .
Perhaps his best lines come toward the end, as he offers a familiar but worthwhile answer to the perennial question “Where is God in the midst of tragedy?” . . .
Beyond the Gates is most worth seeing for its uncompromising portrait of an episode more representative of the Rwandan genocide than the events depicted in Hotel Rwanda.