It is 1994 in Rwanda and a genocide is going on. The Hutus are hunting down and slaughtering any Tutsis that they can get their hands or machetes on. Whole families and villages are killed. It is totally chaos.
In the town of Kigali during the first days of the genocide white Europeans are running away. A Belgian family is fleeing leaving their Tutsi nanny, Jacqueline (Ruth Nirere), behind to hide in the attic. She hides in the dusty and dark attic while the hutus rampage through the house pillaging everything they can get their hands on. Jacqueline sits there silently for days knowing that if they find her she will be murdered like so many others. Once she believes that the coast is clear Jacqueline heads out into the jungle heading back to her own children left alone in her village.
Struggling silently through the dense jungle Jacqueline finally gets home to find her village deserted. More tragically, when she arrives at her house she finds the bloody and quite dead body of her two young boys. Jacqueline is inconsolable. As she is washing and preparing the bodies of her two young sons to be buried some older women come back into town and chase her off. She watches from the jungle at the edge of the village to see the naked bodies of her sons thrown into the back of a pickup and driven off.
Half mad with grief Jacqueline once again plunges into the jungle. Arriving finally at a body of water she walks into it and seems to be contemplating suicide. Hearing a noise – a human groaning – she is distracted from her plan to end her own life. Beside a rowboat she finds an unconscious and gravely injured Tutsi man (Afazali Dewaele). What is she going to do now? Can she go on? Can she save this man?
We are given a first person point of view by first time Belgian director Phillippe Van Leeuw of the horrific genocide that happened in Rwanda. This is a personal, intimate and horrific film. It is almost too much to take at times. The viewer goes more and more mad right along with the lead character as the film progresses.
The largely silent performance in the lead role by actress Ruth Nirere is stunning. After the very first scenes her character does not have any lines, but that does not hamper her performance. With her very expressive eyes and body she is able to convey the horror and ongoing fall into madness that this woman is undergoing. Like most great acting jobs never once during the movie do we think that this woman is acting; she is simply relaying a horrific story.
Though it is hard to watch throughout it is an inspiring film. It shows us how strong the human spirit can be in the most difficult of situations. Director Van Leeuw just tells a story and does not get caught up in telling us how we should feel or making judgements about one side or the other. Should be a film that is considered when Best Foreign Language nominations are thought of.