Munyurangabo

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Munyurangabo
"Although this is not a violent movie, the threat of it makes its presence felt - with the machete Sangwa carries with him symbolising both the brutality of the past and the potential for it in the future."

Lee Isaac Chung may have sprung to global film with his semi-autobiographical Minari, which saw star Youn Yuh-jung pick up a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, but he made this, his first feature, way back in 2007.

Filmed on location in Rwanda and the first feature to be shot in the Kinyarwanda language, it considers the impact of the country's genocide via the rearview mirror, through the friendship of Ngabo (Jeff Rutagengwa) - the shortened name form of the film's title - and Sangwa (Eric Ndorunkundiye). Both the history of the friends and their plans for the future are gradually revealed, with Chung and his co-writer Samuel Gray Anderson taking a slow build approach to the story - although it comes as little surprise that one is Hutu and the other Tutsi. All we know at first is that they are on "a journey", destination unspecified, but which includes a stop-off at Ngabo's parents, who haven't seen their son in three years.

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Although this is not a violent movie, the threat of it makes its presence felt - with the machete Sangwa carries with him symbolising both the brutality of the past and the potential for it in the future. As with Minari, Chung shows the strong influence of family on actions, as the two young men are navigating expectations stemming from what has gone before. Things may look broadly peaceful but the horrors of the past are living on in memory, threatening to resurface through vengeance.

The naturalistic feel of Munyurangabo, which makes strong use of ambient noise and Rwandan music, does make the it a little baggy in places, with the non-professional cast bringing authenticity but not always the most potent delivery. Some of the plot manoeuvres also bear the hallmarks of first-time filmmaking, lacking the fluidity between scenes that comes with experience but Chung has gear-change surprises up his sleeve, including a scene where a Rwandan poet Edouard B Uwayo recites a poem directly to camera - delivering a sharp kick of emotional immediacy along with its message.

The film is available to watch on MUBI from June 16

Reviewed on: 15 Jun 2021
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Munyurangabo packshot
Two friends in Rwanda face choices about their future that stem from their country's past.

Director: Lee Isaac Chung

Writer: Samuel Gray Anderson, Lee Isaac Chung

Starring: Jeff Rutagengwa, Eric Ndorunkundiye, Jean Marie Vianney Nkurikiyinka, Jean Pierre Harerimana, Narcicia Nyirabucyeye, Edouard B. Uwayo

Year: 2007

Runtime: 97 minutes

Country: Rwanda, US

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