There’s something more than a little off-putting about the start of Rwanda & Juliet. The idea mounting a production of Shakespeare’s immortal love story in a country still scarred by genocide is fascinating. But Andrew Garrod, a white-haired old man with two cats and a fondness for saying “golly”, feels like precisely the wrong person to do it. It’s hard not to cringe as he grandly talks about having Romeo played by a Hutu and Juliet a Tutsi – or vice versa, either way works.
It doesn’t help that, on a surface level at least, director Ben Proudfoot and his team do little to alleviate the feeling of well-meaning white condescension. Cinematographer Doug Burgdorff frames Rwanda like a gap-year student discovering it for the first time, while the swelling strings of Nicholas Jacobson-Larson’s score could have been ripped right out of Dead Poet’s Society, as if Garrod’s cast are about to jump on top of their desks at any moment.
Thankfully, Proudfoot’s respect for the subject matter becomes more apparent as the film progresses. Apart from some brief text at the beginning, he wastes little time regurgitating the facts of the Rwandan genocide. Instead, insightful interviews with the play’s cast give us glimpses of a generation trying to come to terms with horrific events in their youth that have defined their entire identity. It’s clear that a plague has fallen on both Hutu and Tutsi houses alike, and everyone must find closure in their own way.
The presentation may be a touch saccharine for some to swallow, but it’s hard not to get swept up in Rwanda & Juliet by the end. It’s a wonderfully optimistic story which proves that, even 400 years after his death, Shakespeare’s words still resonate across the world.
DIRECTOR: Ben Proudfoot
SYNOPSIS: Director Ben Proudfoot explores the thin line between love and hate in a new, surprisingly charming and uplifting feature documentary set in Kigali, Rwanda—the epicenter of the genocide that left a million dead two decades earlier.