Summary: Alanna Brown's Trees of Peace is a poignant tale of four women, who find hope and strength, and can go any length to survive amid one of the darkest tragedies in the world
Last Updated: 11.52 AM, Jun 10, 2022
Story: Four women from different backgrounds are trapped under a small basement of a house and end up spending 81 days together during the Rwanda genocide where the minority Tutsi community was killed in large numbers by Hutu extremists. As they fight for survival against all odds, they forge an unbreakable sisterhood.
Review: The film begins with the voiceover, "None of us menstruates anymore. None of us goes to the bathroom. I can feel my spirit eager for the long sleep. Life leaves my body. My bones waste away." As the gloomy voiceover hovers over the scene as the camera pans across the house which is in the thick of action, we hear sounds of gunfire, people screaming and bellowing for help in the background. It's an ominous warning of the things to come.
Trees of Peace is set in 1994, which was the peak of the violent history between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda, where the minority Tutsis were killed en masse by the Hutu extremists. As the genocide reaches a feverish peak, we are introduced to four women from different backgrounds- Mutesi (a Tutsi woman and a rape victim), Peyton (an American volunteer who is seeking atonement for her past sins), Jeanette (a Tutsi nun who is grappling with loss of faith), and Annick (a pregnant Hutu moderate), who go into hiding inside a small basement of Annick's house to save their lives.
What ensues is their battle for survival amid a heart-rending agony. The women are forced to survive with limited food and water, no bathroom facility, live through the helpless wail of a pregnant woman getting gangraped right outside their hiding place, children being slaughtered with a machete, neighbours turning on each other, a man urinating into the vent of their hiding place, trust and faith being shattered and amid all this ordeal, fight their inner demons as well. As the days pass by and the future looks doomed, the women have to find various means to keep their hopes and spirits up.
Amid this unimaginable strife and angst, they find a bit of solace in a book called Trees of Peace. As they read the line, “Seeds of love are planted each and every day. They are part of life in every single way,” you sincerely hope that Annick's yet-to-be-born child comes into a better world that isn't filled with so much hatred. Even as the women, who are polar opposites, do not believe in each other in the beginning, they gradually begin to forge a sisterhood. Their bond becomes so strong that when one of them gets an opportunity to leave the hiding place as the last chance for survival, she refuses to leave out of sheer guilt leaving the others. The violence outside doesn't stop and there doesn't seem a light at the end of the tunnel. So, will these women who display incredible strength, grit and determination escape unhurt?
Trees of Peace is a poignant, heart-wrenching tale of four women, who stick together, forgive, lean on and encourage each other during one of the world's worst tragedies. It is so gut-wrenching that one can only imagine what people who were in similar situations in real life must have gone through. Unlike many other films set in the backdrop, we don't really see graphic images of the ghastly violence, but we only hear them (just like the four heroic women of the story), thus leaving the rest to our imagination. The cinematography and the background score peppers the eerie feeling.
The film shows how violence can wreak havoc on the lives as well as minds, but at the same time how one can stay courageous even during the maelstrom of war. The film might appear to slow down at places, but you do not want to look away from the women even for a second. As one sincerely hopes they escape the ordeal, even as the voiceover says, "I am writing this so that when they find our bodies, they will know how long we were here".
Verdict: A gut-wrenching tale of grit during one of the world's worst tragedies. A must watch!