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Shot Quickly but Steadily, Munyurangabo Is a Powerfully Christian Film

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Munyurangabo
Directed by Lee Isaac Chung
Film Movement
May 29 through June 4
Anthology Film Archives

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A heaviness—call it lived-in shellshock—hangs over the green Rwandan hills in Lee Isaac Chung's serious-minded, immersive debut. Sangwa joins fellow capital-city flotsam Ngabo on a trek to avenge Ngabo's father, but first, they visit Sangwa's estranged family. There, the journey stops before it begins: Sangwa takes root in his home turf, yielding to his mother's cooking and reconciling with his rigid father. Ngabo (short for "Munyurangabo") finds a drinking buddy, but as a Tutsi, he's suspect, and, watching father and son, feels orphaned and friendless anew. The 28-year-old Chung, an American, shot the movie on Super 16 in 11 days while teaching filmmaking at a relief mission, but it feels fully formed, re-energizing the idiom of pastoral drift, folklore, and elemental tension that is so popular in festival-circuit village narratives. Blunt dialogue undercuts the elliptical plot, and the acting is lethargic beyond any intended mood. But Chung's handle on a super-fraught milieu is sure, and carefully considered images of Sangwa's family farming or Ngabo vacillating stick. Without proselytizing, what's left in this machetes-to-ploughshares tale is, unexpectedly, a powerfully Christian film.

 
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