Lesley Bilinda, the widow of a Tutsi pastor who disappeared during the Rwandan genocide without ever being seen, goes back to Kigali in search for the truth. There are hundreds of thousands of people whose killers are still walking free and her husband’s killer is one of them. She fluently speaks Kinya-rwanda, the most widely spoken local language so communication is not a problem.
She came to Rwanda in early 1990s as a nurse and her journey takes her to an old school where she taught some unspecified course, the villages that she was most familiar with, the house where her husband, Charles, and Lesley lived, the church were they were married, and to the main cities in Rwanda, Butare and Kigali. But more astonishing than the sites she visits are people she meets. A local prison official grants her the permission to meet Pastor Kabeira, who was the manager of the guesthouse where Charles was last seen. He seems to know more than he says, and it is simply painful to watch this woman realizing that he might be the key to her husband’s murder, but he will never confess. He completely denies knowing anything about Charles despite the fact that he provides details about the exact place where her husband was last spotted before being taken by force by Hutu militants.
Disappointed and hurt, Lesley goes to the Murambi Genocide Memorial, one of the killing houses where tens of thousands of Tutsis were massacred. 50,000 people were brought to the slaughter house, four survived. The story is being told by one of the four survivors now working as a tour guide at the museum. His war wound is impossible to miss. He was shot in the head, which left a small whole, a mark that will follow him for the rest of his life. It is a mark that shows how lucky and unlucky he was, and a mild walking impediment suggests that the trauma of the genocide is not only moral but also physical. It is the kind of scars that tell the story of the survivors. As I am one of the few travelers that dared leaving Kigali and faced the same traumatizing sites where people had been slaughtered like sheep, I felt deeply compassioned for her feelings and experiences.
As if all that was not enough, after returning to Gahini, the village where Lesley and Charles lived after they married in a local church, she finds out that her husband was also cheating on her.
There’s much to learn out of this 51 minute documentary. Lesley discovers a highly divided Rwanda, with people pointing fingers at each other, with frustration taking the place of pain, with justice being relative and elusive, and widows, widowers and children trying to overcome the greatest challenge in their lives. When talking to one of the Hutu militants responsible for the deaths of many people (numbers unspecified,) she loses her temper and shows her growing frustration and despair. When she addresses the man in French, following his vague answers, she unleashes her fury by saying what many have discovered to be la rason d’etre of the post-genocide era in Rwanda: “People keep lying, lying, lying, and I don’t know who to believe.”
The widow of Charles Bilinda finds, at least for the sake of the camera, some sort of closure. She claims that she realized by the end of her journey through post-genocide Rwanda that her marriage would not have lasted. But that sad realization doesn’t take the pain or the sorrow away.
The documentary ends with one of the many exasperating statistics about the current state of things in Rwanda: “Over 80,000 prisoners remain untried in Rwanda. Pastor Kabarira is still one of them.”
While this is a touching documentary is suffers from some obvious flows that prevent it from being a really good documentary. Firstly, analyzing and discovering genocide in three weeks is simply impossible. Secondly, re-living genocide from her perspective, the white person’s perspective, the perspective of someone who was not there at a time of the genocide seems not only useless but also inappropriate and offensive. I would have been much more interested in paying more attention to the victims’ stories, but the director only uses a handful of such stories throughout the documentary.
This film had a good idea and an interesting study case. But without paying more attention to the context in which the genocide occurred, the people involved, and without carrying a well organized investigation, this documentary might easily miss its point. Asking to solve a murder in three weeks and with limited resources and information is a task not even X would have taken easily. “Coming, crying and leaving” is such a superficial way of crafting a documentary, that not even such a dramatic event that claimed the lives of almost one million people could transform it into a worthy piece of information and historical representation.
This documentary is rated 4/10
The first ten minutes of the documentary can be watched here: