Directed by Kivu Ruhorahoza
It doesn’t even take Kivu Ruhorahoza the full three acts of his first feature, Grey Matter, to thoroughly disturb and dislodge what most think they know about movies about the making of movies. Ostensibly, this one (which runs for a week during MoMA's Global Lens series) begins with a harried director, scrambling unsuccessfully to get affairs in order for the shoot. But the sleepless Balthazar (Hervé Kimenyi), who’s trying to make a feature in Rwanda, lacks both the infrastructure and the funding necessary—a bureaucrat tells him in terms near-universally comprehensible that his subject matter isn’t… quite… what they’re looking for. Now, if it were only a message film about AIDS or violence…
The difficulties of producing Balthazar’s dream film, The Cycle of the Cockroach, are understandable: instead of condemning violence, it calls for the rape of a cockroach, discussed at length with a friend over dinner. Not like Irreversible… more like Blue Velvet. But Balthazar isn’t out to shock. As he finally sleeps, The Cycle begins—or continues—as two understated, unannounced, quietly appalling sequences, from the prisoner driven to bloodlust by a series of maddening radio broadcasts, to a set of siblings orphaned by the genocides of the 90s, brittle Justine (Ruth Shanel Nirere) trying bravely to haul Yvan (Shami Bizimana, mostly in a motorcycle helmet) back together in the wreckage of their emptied house. Yvan’s suffering his own hallucinations, and the pall of unreality covers everything—otherwise, we realize, it becomes too much to bear.
Spare and echoing, Grey Matter proceeds with elegance—cleverly founded in an artist’s struggle to work, it then proceeds to film’s real labor: working through the struggle to live.
Opens January 19 at MoMA