The enormity of what is depicted in Beyond the Gates is hard to even comprehend, but unlike many works of art about atrocity, the film makes a good faith effort to bring it across with a minimum of false drama. In the spring of 1994 in Rwanda, there are murmurings of trouble, but at the Ecole Technique Officielle, a European-run secondary school in Kigali where a number of UN peacekeepers are temporarily based, all seems peaceful. The kids go through their routines and lessons while the white staff remains mostly ignorant of the storm brewing outside, the school's oasis providing a mostly untrue sense of safety to those residing within. The warning signs are there of course, for audiences with the benefit of historical hindsight; the meaningful glares from a Hutu worker at the school, a Hutu politician who comes by to scope out the school and to ask leading questions about exactly how many UN soldiers are quartered there. Then the massacres begin.
Like in 2004's Hotel Rwanda, the bulk of Beyond the Gates is about the establishment of a safe zone within the homicidal abyss that the country so precipitously fell into. As Hutu militia roam the countryside -- drunk, mad with power, and waving bloody machetes like creatures from a nightmare -- and massacring any Tutsis they come across, the school becomes a haven for refugees, with the guns of the few blue-helmeted UN soldiers the only thing keeping the killers at bay. It is also about the lengths to which a number of good people will go to in order to save the lives of the innocent. John Hurt plays the school's resident priest, Father Christopher, with his customary blend of scratch-throated gravitas and self-deprecating wit. Hugh Dancy (somewhat flat here) co-stars as Joe Connor, a sort of Oxfam poster boy, the handsome and well-meaning European spending his gap year teaching in a third world school; like a more moral version of James McAvoy's doctor in The Last King of Scotland. Both are stunned into near-incomprehension by the butchery going on outside the gates, but act in extremely different ways. This is not a film that allows an audience the easy out of providing them a character who does the right thing and is rewarded for it.
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