Film Review: The Uncondemned

Even the filmmakers admit that few will want to see a movie about mass rape and genocide. But what they’ve made here is a great real-life legal thriller about bringing justice in the horrifying wake of the Rwandan genocide.
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That misogyny of the most heinous kind exists in the world is irrefutably evidenced by the fact that, although rape has been listed as an international war crime since 1919, it had never been prosecuted as such until 1997. That was when legal representatives  from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda sought to hold rapists accountable for their actions during the horrific genocide which occurred in 1994, borne of the bloody conflict between the country's two opposing cultures, the Hutus and the Tutsis.

Nick Louvel and Michele Mitchell’s searing and uplifting documentary The Uncondemned unblinkingly focuses on this vital mission. Though it is, indeed, at times hard to take, it should be seen by everyone. Louvel and Mitchell corralled an impressive set of witnesses and survivors to tell this horrific tale, which they do with intelligence and heartbreaking emotion. Those words particularly apply to the female victims, brave souls whose camaraderie, especially, will move you. “We're going to leave you alive so you can die of sadness," were the words one Tutsi woman heard from her attacker.

Unbelievably, rape was considered a relatively minor offense in respect to the more than 800,000 murders which were perpetrated during the genocide, so there was little real effort to seek accountability.  Pierre-Richard Prosper and Sara Darehshori, the valiant lawyers involved, were challenged by both the reluctance of victims to come forward—small wonder, as some witnesses had actually been killed—and by the insanely low resources with which to work. At one point, they scrounge even for mere paper. The victims’ trust was a particularly hard-won thing. It had to be gained by two women: Patricia Sellers, the "legal advisor for gender," and  "gender consultant" Lisa Pruitt, who devised an instruction manual on how to communicate with the women. 

But, for all the examples of man’s inhumanity being once more jaw-droppingly evinced, a just and happy ending was in store when Rwandan mayor Jean-Paul Akayesu was convicted for having supported the rapes and even ordering them to be committed.  It is to be hoped that the precedent set by this landmark trial continues, in the face of the inescapable certainty of such atrocities happening in this ever crazier and more violent world.

Click here for cast and crew information.