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Forward Thinking: Lee Isaac Chung’s Munyurangabo

Forward Thinking: Lee Isaac Chung’s Munyurangabo

Munyurangabo boasts a provenance that would make a film festival programmer salivate—here is a debut feature from Rwanda starring nonactors, written by a white American, and directed by a Korean-American. But the movie’s successful jog on the festival circuit, which included stops at Cannes and Toronto, can be attributed to more than its back story. Rough around the edges though it may be, director Lee Isaac Chung’s film is an intermittently lyrical and genuinely affecting work that at times even emits the shock of the new.

After a cryptic overture, we are introduced to Munyurangabo (Jeff Rutagengwa), or ‘Ngabo for short, and Sangwa (Eric Ndorunkundiye) as they walk in slow motion down a Kigali road, arms around each other and seemingly carefree. The two are on a journey to an undisclosed destination, with a brief stopover with Sangwa’s family, who live in a rural village from which he fled three years earlier. Despite some early tension between father (Jean Marie Vianney Nkurikiyinka) and son, the sojourn proves a happy one for Sangwa—so much so that he tells ‘Ngabo that he may have to continue on his journey alone. Complicating matters is Papa Sangwa’s barely disguised hatred for ‘Ngabo, a Tutsi boy living under his Hutu roof. ‘Ngabo himself chafes at the sight of Sangwa with his family. It’s a reminder of what he lost in the genocide, and of his odyssey’s purpose: to find the man who killed his father and exact his revenge.

The first narrative feature to be made in the Kinyarwanda language, Munyurangabo strikes the proper balance between the ethnographic and the artistic. Chung and co-screenwriter Samuel Gray Anderson approached the project as an act of commemoration—a scrapbook gift—for a culture with no film industry to speak of. By no means perfect, the film is nonetheless a vivid and reverential reflection of a country and its people. Click here to read the rest of Elbert Ventura’s review of Munyurangabo.

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