Based on true events and filmed in Rwanda at the Ecole Technique Officielle and other actual locations.
Catholic News Service
"Beyond the Gates" (IFC) towers above most current films, with even the more worthy ones seeming like fluff in comparison. It's a gripping film about one of recent history's most regrettable episodes: the international community's failure to come to the aid of the thousands of men, women and children who lost their lives during the Rwandan genocide..
This dramatization focuses specifically on the 1994 siege of a secondary school there. Father Christopher (John Hurt), a dedicated Catholic priest who runs the Ecole Technique Officielle and Joe Connor (Hugh Dancy), an idealistic young British teacher who hopes to "make a difference" -- both fictional characters -- view with growing alarm the escalating violence just outside their gates by the Hutu majority against their Tutsi brethren whom they regard as mere "cockroaches."
Father Christopher is inspired by an actual Bosnian priest named Father Vjeko Curic who sheltered Tutsis during the genocide.
The school grounds -- guarded by Belgian security forces on the behest of the United Nations (but only to maintain the peace, not enforce it) -- become a sanctuary against the violence just outside its gates. Among the students is a sensitive young Tutsi girl, Marie (Clare-Hope Ashitey), to whom the priest and Joe form a paternal attachment.
When the violence reaches a critical stage, Father Christopher finds hundreds more Tutsis begging for shelter. The U.N. security forces are inclined to refuse entry, but Father Christopher insists they be let in.
Some 2,500 Tutsi citizens ultimately found refuge there, but it would only be temporary.
Even with machete-wielding Hutus hovering with deadly intent, the U.N. -- which refused to label the Rwandan atrocities "genocide" as it would oblige them to intervene (a stance echoed by the United States and the United Kingdom) -- would recall its troops, leading to a hasty evacuation, but shamefully, of only the white people. The decisions made by Father Christopher and young Joe at this point are pivotal to the film's theme of personal choice.
The Catholic element here is strong. Father Christopher believes in saying Mass no matter what the outside danger, and throughout, is shown carefully explaining the significance of Catholic doctrine and rituals. Despite a short-lived despair, stemming from his helplessness at the violence he's powerless to alleviate, his character is one of the most positive cinematic depictions of a priest in recent memory.
Hurt -- in real life, a clergyman's son and monk's brother -- gives a wonderfully committed and believable performance, and Dancy -- currently winning raves on Broadway for his terrific performance in the classic World War I drama "Journey's End" -- convincingly conveys the growing horror and disillusionment of his character.
Director Michael Caton-Jones has shot the film (from a compelling script by David Wolstencroft) at the actual locations of the horrific events with survivors among the cast and crew, some of whom are poignantly showcased in the closing credit sequence.
This important film -- with its cautionary reminder of worldwide indifference that must not be allowed to happen again -- is acceptable for mature teens, despite the primarily adult classification.
The film contains much disturbing if discreetly handled violence, description of atrocities, images of dead and wounded, some rough language and mild profanity uttered under duress, and a childbirth scene. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.