With Duhozanye – The Widows of Rwanda Katrine Frogner has created a brutal and very hard-towatch film. Additional scenes depicting everyday life in Rwanda today would have created a better, more balanced film.

Steffen Moestrup
Regular critic in ModernTimes.review and NY TID, the Monthly Norwegian newspaper. He is also doing his PhD in Aarhus, Denmark.

A group of genocide survivors has established an organisation consisting of both Hutu and Tutsi widows. The film tracks the functions of Duhozanye and we are witnesses to both the brutal genocide recollections of the widows and the subsequent open-air courts at one point, in the Norwegian filmmaker Katrine Frogner’s documentary Duhozanye – The Widows of Rwanda, we are told that one no longer asks whether the man or woman in front of
you is Hutu or Tutsi. “We are all Rwandans now,” we are told. This sentence is more or less the only glimpse of hope in an otherwise very exhausting and sometimes nauseating film.

The film’s point of departure is the organisation Duhozanye. The word means to comfort each other – the members are widows of the genocide who now help each other and take care of the orphans. Frogner, however, does not focus very thoroughly on the organisation’s work but instead we hear a number of horrifying accounts of the genocide from the surviving widows. The details speak for themselves: young women are beaten to death in such a brutal manner that their faces are unrecognisable. One is raped so badly that her legs cannot be put together again. Another woman has her baby beaten to death while she carries it on her back. The murderer says that the baby is just laughing but the mother can hear that the sound is her baby’s last cry before death. Yet another woman is raped by more than a hundred men and forced to eat human flesh. A mother poisons her children to avoid their suffering a more brutal death.

«what is the purpose of retelling these gruesome stories again and again?»

I will spare the reader from more. Hopefully, reading the above paragraph illustrates the feeling I had when watching the film. A feeling of depression, of ultimate sadness and abhorrence. One can question the motives for recording and publishing the many horrifying witness accounts. Have we not already frequently been told the details of the terrible genocide? What is the purpose of retelling these gruesome stories again and again? At one level, I must admit, these stories need to be told over and over again.

The world must never forget what took place in Rwanda in 1994 and, perhaps, could to a certain degree have been avoided if the international community had reacted faster and more strongly. But on another level, I feel the film would have been better and more successful if the balance between the genocide stories and life in Rwanda today was more even. As a viewer I am left with many questions I would like answered. What is Duhozanye exactly and how does it work? The organisation consists of both Tutsi and Hutu widows, but how do they succeed in helping each other side by side?

«if the balance between the genocide stories and life in rwanda today was more even»

A few scenes depict the openair courts where the responsible people from the genocide, dressed in the characteristic pink clothes, are put to justice. These scenes work immensely well. We are surprised by the scenes’ almost ironic everyday content. One scene shows the mother of a murdered child talking to her child’s murderer. They talk about which day it would be most practical to go together to the mass grave area and dig up the child’s corpse. This kind of scene and more footage from everyday life at Duhozanye would have improved the film greatly. As it is now, Duhozanye is still a somewhat mystical and obscure organization. Frogner’s film also suffers from some technical problems. Several scenes have bad sound which is especially problematic in the interview sequences. The editing and especially some cuts between on-screen and off-screen interviews seem motiveless and disturb the film’s rhythm. Duhozanye – the widows of Rwanda is still a very important documentary and I admire Frogner’s persistent work ethic and her ability to create trusting relationships with her characters.

 


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