Year Released: 2007
Distributor: Film Movement
Running Time: 93 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 13+
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Hotel Rwanda, Before Your Eyes, The Trap (Srdan Golobuvic film), Kinyarwanda, Sometimes in April, Dreams of Dust
-Munyurangabo is the first Rwandan film to have dialogue entirely in the Kinyarwanda language which is the most spoken language in the country. Other Rwandan films around that time and before mix languages or have movies in English, French, or Swahili.
-This film was directed by Korean-American filmmaker Lee Isaac Chung. This was his directorial debut and this project came about when he taught a filmmaking class in Kigali. Most of the cast members are his own students and through orphanages.
-Munyurangabo won the Grand Prize at the AFI Fest in 2007.
-Language Bonus: The name Munyurangabo means “A mighty warrior” and “He would conquer to clear the path” in Kinyarwanda.
I get excited whenever I cover a movie from a country I’ve never seen their movies from before. This next examples comes from Rwanda. This nation has been through a lot and this year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide. It was a brutal event and I hope that never happens again. Fortunately, that country has drastically improved since then. The capital and largest city of Kigali looks nothing like it used to and is one of the cleanest cities not just in Africa, but in the whole world. My first exposure to Rwandan cinema (Hotel Rwanda doesn’t count even though there are obvious comparisons given the themes and geography) which comes from a neorealism movie.
Reka! [Let’s go! in Kinyarwanda]
Munyurangabo is about a couple of friends leaving Kigali and going back to the rural parts of Rwanda. The friends in question are the title character who’s also known as Ngabo for short who’s a Tutsi and he has a Hutu friend named Sangwa. They go back to Sangwa’s village and reunite with his family. They originally plan on hanging out there for the day, but they both end up spending multiple days in the village. Ngabo appreciates his friendship, but he has ulterior motives. Back in Kigali, he stole a machete and he plans on killing Sangwa’s father because of his anti-Tutsi bigotry and also because Ngabo believes that Papa Sangwa may have been responsible for orphaning him as a child during the Rwandan Genocide back in the 90s. How is Ngabo going to deal with these feelings of justice and vengeance in the presence of his friend?
Neorealism movies are certainly up my alley. I’ve enjoyed quite a few such as Before Your Eyes and Taxi to name a few. Those elements that I do appreciate certainly show up here. The movie may consist of nonprofessional actors, but they certainly do great in acting. Jeff Rutagengwa just nails it as Ngabo. You can feel the tranquil fury in his heart once he goes into Sangwa’s village. There is an underlying internalized sadness and rage in his body language and facial expressions and you can believe that he is a teenage boy who lost his childhood in pure bloodshed. The other actors did a great job, too. They were very natural yet believable with the whole situation. Even though the camera work won’t be impressing far wealthier directors, this worked very well and can be creative. One standout scene was when Ngabo meets this other teenage boy who presents a poem for an event to commemorate the fallen of the Rwandan Genocide. As the conversation goes on, the POV becomes a wide angle close-up shot of the boy reciting his original poem which has a double interpretation of either being in Ngabo’s eyes or the audience as he delivers a rhythmic, yet scathing poem dealing with poverty, social ills, and even how Western powers didn’t do enough to stop the massive bloodshed before the poem ends on a peaceful note. That was very unique and either interpretation worked just great here. This film did get me interested and there was fascinating how the story unfolded and I didn’t know how everything would end for this film.
Munyurangabo does have a few missteps along the way. While the plotting and story is effective and powerful, I’m going to have to be that guy to talk about obvious qualms. There’s poverty porn going on even in the beginning scenes in Kigali. Seriously, watch this film, and then Google some cityscape images, and you would think you were looking at two different cities. Also, the concept of AIDS is brought up about one character which only add to African stereotypes. I know that subplot doesn’t dominate, but I thought it was really uncalled for. There were also subtitle errors where a jerry can is typed as a “gerry can” in the film. That was a rookie mistake. One scene that I thought was unintentionally hilarious and I shouldn’t be thinking that way is when Ngabo claims to his father’s face in the night sky. I know you don’t see it and it could be a delusion, but that isn’t the first time I’ve seen something like that in a story that takes place in Africa. HINT: The answers involve dead feline fathers from a 60s anime and a certain American rip-off of said anime! Figure it out! I know that the Rwandan Genocide plays a huge role with Ngabo’s character, but I felt they emphasized the Hutu/Tutsi dynamic with the friendship and character development too much between him and Sangwa.
This Rwandan film was a good entry into the neorealist portfolio despite some of the flaws in it. Munyurangabo nails the neorealist aesthetic with the no-frills filming and gritty presentation. The plot is unpredictable and you won’t see the ending coming. You’ll want to see the friendship between Ngabo and Sangwa stay together despite the ethnic tensions. I did have issues with some subplots and the impoverished environments won’t change opinions about Rwanda or Africa. Munyurangabo is a worthy watch and certainly doesn’t pull any punches.
Adjustable Rating System:
Add 1-2 points if you like realistic dramas.
Add 1 point if you like coming of age stories.
Subtract 1-3 points if you prefer high-budget camera work.
-Wonderful neorealistic setting
-Poverty porn aspects
-Some subtitle errors
Final Score: 7/10 points
Content Warning: Munyurangabo should be fine for teens and up. Ngabo’s goal is to kill Sangwa’s dad with his machete, so that’s quite disturbing. The Rwandan Genocide isn’t shown, but the effects are present and are mentioned in gruesome detail. One scene involves teenagers drinking in the village and the scene with the stolen machete involves blood.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Munyurangabo is property of Film Movement. The DVD cover is from Film Movement and is property of Film Movement.