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When caring deeply isn't enough

`Beyond the Gates,' set against the brutality in Rwanda, comes down hardest on the U.N.

March 16, 2007|Kevin Crust | Times Staff Writer

It would be a mistake to dismiss the drama "Beyond the Gates" simply because it is another instance of telling an African narrative through white protagonists.

Although that is the case, there is a particular point of view at work here that demonstrates the filmmakers are fully aware of the burden they're placing on the story. It's a record of one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent history but, more trenchantly, a rebuke of the ineffective reaction of the international community.

Set in spring 1994 in the volatile nation of Rwanda, the story inspired by actual events focuses on a young British teacher named Joe Connor (Hugh Dancy) serving a one-year residency at a technical school in Kigali. The school is run by a Catholic priest, Father Christopher (John Hurt), and is temporarily serving as a base for a U.N. peace force under the command of a sympathetic, if rigid, Belgian officer, Capt. Delon (Dominique Horwitz).

Long-standing tensions in the country between the majority Hutus and the minority Tutsis reach a boiling point and rumors of atrocities spread rapidly. After the death of the Rwandan president in a suspicious plane crash, 2,500 Tutsi refugees descend on the school seeking sanctuary.

The powerful, well-crafted film, written by David Wolstencroft from a story by David Belton and Richard Alwyn and directed by veteran Scottish filmmaker Michael Caton-Jones, is brutally honest and emotionally raw. It explores the often futile gesture of caring deeply about the plight of others while being incapable of actually doing something as well as the near-death of hope among even the most devout.

Hurt is in fine form as a man who has devoted more than 30 years to serving God in an inhospitable place and learned to navigate local politics but is stymied by the global bureaucracy of the U.N. A beacon of what he has hoped to accomplish is present in one of his students, Marie, played by young Clare-Hope Ashitey, who recently starred in "Children of Men" and brings some of the same transcendence exhibited there to this part.

Dancy has perhaps the most challenging role in the idealistic Joe. It is through Joe's eyes that we experience the country and its sorrow. We may scoff at his do-gooder naivete, but when he faces the helplessness and frustration of being unable to save the Tutsis seeking his help, his pain and guilt cut deep.

The film comes down hardest on the U.N. As its man on the ground, Delon is a military bureaucrat whose hands are tied by the organization's mandate of disengagement unless fired upon. His own frustration is palpable, but his repeated argument that he is following orders rings hollow. A news conference with a U.N. representative not-so-nimbly dancing around the use of the word "genocide" illustrates the group's inability to move past semantics and speaks volumes about what went wrong in Rwanda.

Tense and gut-wrenching, "Beyond the Gates" is a horrifying story told with grace and compassion. If it makes the obvious comparison between the Rwandan genocide and the Holocaust, it also suggests more complex parallels to contemporary situations throughout the world that demand international attention but seldom receive it as well as conditions in which foreign intercession has made matters worse. It forces us to keep looking after the TV cameras have turned away and wrestle with the difficult questions of what should be done in the future.

*

kevin.crust@latimes.com

"Beyond the Gates." MPAA rating: R for strong violence, disturbing images and language. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes. At Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex, 1332 2nd St., Santa Monica, (310) 394-9741; Laemmle's Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869; and Edwards University 6, 4245 Campus Drive, Irvine, (949) 854-8818

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