Monday, January 20, 2020
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Movie review: Beautifully Broken

Christian proselytizing and substandard acting and directing once again get in the way of a story that admirably deserves to be told to a wide audience in Beautifully Broken, a faith-based story about the refugee crisis that resulted from the Rwandan genocide in the 90s.

All those Christian bumper stickers come home to roost, though they seem spoken out of context as they fail to advance the story when they are just dropped in as part of a mini-sermon instead of a conversation. Here’s a good one, though: No clay ever became something beautiful without first going through a little fire.

That describes, first, the country of Rwanda, which is beautiful and seems unlike a place where a civil war ever occurred and killed almost a million people. Many of them fled to Kenya or other countries in that part of Africa, but some—William, whose true story formed the basis for the movie—were lucky enough to flee to America, leaving their families behind. The residence he built in Nashville for homeless refugees is a heroic contribution to the world that would have made a movie all on its own.

Voxitatis is trying something new this year: In the past, I’ve asked high school students to write movie reviews, but I haven’t had any takers since 2011. If you submit a movie review within two weeks of the film’s release date, we’ll consider publishing it if it’s well written. If we accept it, we’ll donate $100 to your high school’s journalism club. I hope this’ll be a better strategy. So if you love movies, send one in.

It describes, in addition, a teenage girl from Nashville—Andrea. She comes from an affluent family but decides to become pen pals with a girl her age from Rwanda after finding a paper with her name and address on it under her seat at a Christian music concert. One Fourth of July, as she goes into the bathroom at a park, she gets raped by a stranger. The incident is never reported to the authorities, as so many rapes aren’t, but that’s not even the focus of the story.

Instead, it centers in Nashville on her relationship with her father, giving it a very patriarchal twist, despite treating the father-daughter relationship in a dismissive manner. In fact, the movie loses focus almost every time it turns to Andrea, because her character is poorly developed, giving her teenage angst, which eventually leads her to storm out through her bedroom window, too little context for us to care about what happens to her.

On the other hand, some of the movie’s more effective moments come in Rwanda. Andrea’s pen pal has a father who leaves his family to join the militia after witnessing the brutal killing of two neighbors and being threatened with the killing of his own family if he insists on not joining up. After the war, he’s imprisoned and is kept from his family even further. Their reunion certainly gives the movie its most touching scenes.

When they are reunited, that Christian bumper sticker comes full circle, as it does with William’s family, which was torn apart by the genocide. As William and Andrea travel to Rwanda with their families to help her recover from her trauma and meet her pen pal, we see the nature of forgiveness, as William deliberately—and with every ounce of melodrama movie-makers could muster—moves through a potential revenge motive for the killing of his mother by relatives of his aunt. He lays down his machete and washes her feet—like Jesus.

On limited release in US theaters, August 24, Beautifully Broken is rated PG-13 for mature thematic content involving violence and disturbing images, and some drug material. The runtime is 108 minutes. We saw the movie in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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