Rwandan genocide activist Stephanie Nyombayire and British historian and holocaust researcher Martin Gilbert are looking at the role of diplomats in situations like World War 2 and the Rwandan genocide. In WW2 there were some diplomats who risked their positions or lives by breaking the rules to save people. But why didn’t everybody do that? And who were the people that did?
The Rescuers tackles an interesting topic and one that hasn’t been talked about much yet in the millions of documentaries about WW2. But there were several things about it that I didn’t like.
My biggest problem with the film was that I took an immediate, personal dislike to Martin Gilbert. That’s of course a personal issue but it meant that I looked hypercritically at everything he did. And I felt he performed through the entire film. Even at the end, when he has a small emotional breakdown and I’m pretty sure he was sincere about that, my first reaction was “COME ON! Pull yourself together.” That’s neither my usual reaction, nor was it appropriate. While there’s no fault on the movie’s part for my feelings, it did color my view of the film.
But it wasn’t the only thing about the film that I didn’t like. I expected it to be more about the Rwandan genocide as well and about diplomats in that war. But it was actually only about diplomats in WW2 and their savees. Stephanie Nyombayire practically follows Martin Gilbert around like a groupie as he preaches about WW2 – and her questions, her country’s and her personal tragedy barely gets any room. [That entire dynamic – the young, black woman following the big, white man around to be enlightened – gets even more emphasized by Stephanie’s diary entries we get to hear that praise Martin (while there’s no return admiration from Martin).] When she does interview people in Rwanda, it’s shown as a montage and we don’t actually get to hear anything that’s said. It would have been interesting to draw the parallels between the diplomats in both conflicts (and the few moments they actually do that are the best of the film).
It gets a turn for the absurd when a UN diplomat who is interviewed states about Rwanda and its genocide: “the black man didn’t count” [black women still aren’t worth mentioning, apparently]. It’s the central point of his interview segment – and the movie proves the point as it sticks with the European war and tragedy.
This probably sounds harsher than I mean it. It was an interesting perspective and generally well-presented. To see the people who were saved in WW2 relive their stories was touching (even if the music was slightly too manipulative for my taste). I had just hoped for and expected a different film (though I’m not exactly sure why).