Film

Shot Quickly but Steadily, Munyurangabo Is a Powerfully Christian Film

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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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