“My Neighbor, My Killer” might best be understood as a companion piece to Philip Gourevitch’s stunning work on the Rwandan genocide, “We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families.” If Mr. Gourevitch’s book looked at the genocide itself, director Anne Aghion’s “My Neighbor, My Killer” looks at what happens when a genocide-ravaged society tries to pick up the pieces and put itself back together.
A sparse, no-frills documentary, Miss Aghion’s film records the tales of people whose families were slaughtered in front of them and the apologies — or lack thereof — from the perpetrators. After the civil war that racked Rwanda and led to the murder of almost 1,000,000 Tutsis by the Hutu majority, the government set up a series of “Gacaca Tribunals.” These were essentially truth and reconciliation hearings: neighbors accused neighbors; neighbors judged neighbors; those who were seen to own up to their crimes were, largely, freed.
What Miss Aghion so deftly shows is the meaninglessness of forgiveness in this context. After a question about forgiveness, one of the women she is talking to says “these whites ask the strangest questions.” This response elicited chuckles from the audience, but it’s not meant to be funny: What does it mean to forgive someone who murdered your children and husband simply because of his ethnicity? Is everything back to normal? Does life just go on?
“My Neighbor, My Killer” screens again Friday, June 19th at 11:30. Miss Aghion will be in attendance for a question and answer session after the screening.