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Beyond the Gates (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jun 7, 2022

Beyond the Gates

Beyond the Gates


Starring John Hurt, Hugh Dancy, Dominique Horwitz, Claire-Hope Ashitey, David Gyasi, Steve Toussaint, Nicola Walker, Louis Mahoney, Susan Nalwoga, Victor Power, Jack Pierce and Musa Kasonka Jr.

Screenplay by David Wolstencraft.

Directed by Michael Caton-Jones.

Distributed by IFC Films.  111 minutes.  Not Rated.

The genocide that occurred in Rwanda in 1994 – and is being echoed currently in Darfur – is so horrifying as to defy words.  Through cultural and religious differences, perfectly normal Rwandans were persuaded to slaughter hundreds of thousands of their neighbors who were of a different tribe – all the while the rest of the world turned a blind eye upon the carnage.

It is an exceptionally horrible and dramatic moment in recent history, so it only makes sense the film would turn its lens to the things that happened in hope that we may learn from it and stop such wholesale carnage from again occurring.  (Sadly, that seems unlikely to happen…)

Beyond the Gates was actually released in Europe two years ago, under the title of Shooting Dogs – a reference to a UN sanction that international guards could not intervene by killing threatening humans but could assassinate canines that caused potential danger.  The film was not given a US release at the time – probably because of the fear that the film may be overshadowed by the Oscar-nominated film Hotel Rwanda, which told a very similar story of the chaos and devastation of that African country.

It is a shame that Beyond the Gates has been held back, because it is every bit the equal of the shocking but spectacular Hotel Rwanda.

Thankfully, the film is finally getting a US release, because this is a heartbreaking film, which needs to be seen and understood.

The film relates a true story in which thousands of the Tutsi refugees were put up in a Catholic school called École Technique Officielle as the encampment is surrounded by hordes of machete-bearing Hutu tribesmen looking to kill them.  The school is run by Father Christopher.  John Hurt is wonderful as this aging priest who has been working in Africa for years and is now starting to lose his faith when he sees the inhumanity surrounding him.

He is aided by Joe Connor (Hugh Dancy), an idealistic middle-classed Brit who decided to come to Rwanda to help and finds himself embroiled in a civil war.  His idealism is stripped away slowly but surely.  At first he feels if he can get a BBC reporter to show what is happening the world will intervene, but he quickly comes to realize that the world does not care.

The school also houses an UN peace-keeping force – which is the only reason that it is not overrun by the hordes outside the gates.  Unfortunately, the UN force leader (Dominique Horwitz) is shackled by an order not to intervene.  When he is finally ordered to retreat from the compound – and bring all the Europeans with him to safety.  He knows as well as everyone that their leaving will sign a death sentence to the thousands of Tutsis who are being sheltered there.

Because of this, Connor has to make a decision between his love of the people, his political ideals and the fear for his own life.  It is a truly devastating moment.

It is quickly followed by an even more wrenching moment.  A Tutsi father asks the UN – undramatically but desperately – if the troops can shoot them all before withdrawing from the compound.  Shooting, he calmly explains, would be more humane and less painful than being hacked to death with machetes.

Beyond the Gates is not easy to watch because it is full of such heartrending sections.  However, it is a brilliant and important film.  The horror, ugliness and depravity of genocide must be acknowledged if it is ever to be stopped.  (3/07)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2007  All rights reserved.  Posted: March 9, 2007.

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