The makers of the 2021 movie ‘Trees of Peace’ waste no time in diving into conflict, so first there’s sound of gunfire and screams, even before images of chaos take over your screen. Directed and written by Alanna Brown, the film focuses on four women’s struggle to survive in a small storage space during the 1994 Rwandan genocide against the Tutsis.
While viewers are informed the movie is “inspired by true events”, the makers never do a deep dive into the history of conflict between the Hutus and Tutsis, except for blaming Belgian colonizers for fueling a violent class warfare. A classic trick from an oppressor’s rule-book – divide and rule. Just what the British did in India – instigating a bloodbath between Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs during the 1947 partition.
In ‘Trees of Peace’, the scale of the Rwandan genocide doesn’t really sink in, since the action is limited to where the four protagonists are hiding. There’s the pregnant Annick (Elliane Umuhire) who is the owner of the house, Jeannette a nun (Charmaine Bingwa), Peyton an American volunteer (Ella Cannon) and sharp-tongued Mutesi (Bola Koleosho) who raises hell in the first few days of their confinement. It takes time for these women to trust each other, ration their food and not lose their sanity while trying to survive. Soon, their conversations begin to get tedious, and as a viewer you wish for either flashbacks from before the genocide, or at least for more glimpse into what is happening on the streets.
Ella Cannon is the weakest link of the four actors, not only does she get a very stock-like American character, but she isn’t able to command any screen presence. It’s not like she is bad, but just not good enough for the viewer to empathize with her situation. Bola Kolesho as the outspoken Mutesi is the most unlikable of the four women, but it’s meant as a compliment to the actor, because the role requires her to be a hot-blooded young Tutsi, who is quick to pass judgement and wounds the other women with her harsh evaluations. She also grows emotionally from the near-death experience of being holed up in a cramped space for weeks, with little hope of coming out alive. The women often read ‘Seeds of Love, Trees of Peace’, the only book they have with them, which sort of inspires them. How? Maybe in times of darkness, all you needs is a children’s book to see some light.
The runtime could’ve been tighter, and Alanna Brown should’ve relied on the classic rule of ‘show, don’t tell’. For example, each time a woman talks about a memory or their experiences, instead of just having them drone on and on, flashback scenes would’ve been more gripping. Such scenes would also have added more depth to each woman’s tale. In the end, ‘Trees of Peace’ feels more like a play, than a movie, and that’s not great, because viewers don’t have that live connection with the actors. Sure, there are some tense moments that will have you on the edge of your seat, but you just don’t feel the kind of catharsis one would expect from a movie like this.
The climax feels flat, although a beautiful song at the end, along with pictures of real life women survivors of the Rwandan genocide does leave some imprint on your mind. Alanna Brown should perhaps consider making a one-hour play out of this story.
It’s a 6/10 from me. The film is available to stream on Netflix.
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