Atiq Rahimi’s previous production The Patience Stone had two characters and only one of them can say lines. His new film, Notre-Dame du Nil, is the opposite, showing a prestigious school in 1970s era Rwanda. There will be a lot of students and hangers on but a few of them stand out. One of those hangers on is Monsieur de Fontenaille (Pascal Greggory), who picks student Veronique as his muse. There’s also Goretti (Malaika Uwamahoro), who’s beginning to see the craziness around her that her classmate Gloriosa is starting. Gloriosa got her clothes dirty while sneaking out into the shrine of the Virgin Mary that’s close by. But she, a Hutu, spins that inconsequential moment and claims that Tutsi men attacked her, causing local panic.
There’s a refinement and sensitivity in Rahimi’s work here, important in depicting women who have growing complexities. There’s also a generosity in here as he divides it into vignettes, giving screen time to his characters. That also means that sometimes, those vignettes makes this film slightly stall from finding its eventual narrative drive. The film, then, spends its first half setting up its characters, which is also an inevitable problem. After all, critics found the same criticism within Scholastique Mukasonga’s novel of the same name that Rahimi adapted. The fact that Rahimi is not local is also apparent in the way he blames everything on Gloriosa. Nonetheless, those problems don’t take away from how powerful this film is, showing how violence interrupting idyllic life.
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