One reporter’s journey into the heart of darkness of the Rwandan genocide is revisited with effective bluntness in Jean-Christophe Klotz’s fictional debut, “Black Out.” Based on the helmer’s experiences (related in his 2006 docu “Return to Kigali”) as a TV cameraman who witnessed the massacre firsthand, this p.o.v.-style narrative reveals how events were initially ignored by Western news agencies, while the French army and U.N. forces did little in terms of prevention. With a stark storyline that convincingly escalates in the final reels, and intense thesping by Jalil Lespert (“Human Resources”), “Black Out” could light up fest and arthouse screens.
More stripped down than “Hotel Rwanda,” “Sleeping Dogs” and “Sometimes in April,” “Black Out” focuses purely on the exploits of a French journo, Antoine (Lespert), and his local fixer, Clement (Cyril Guei, equally compelling), as they attempt to cover the carnage unfolding around them.
Stuck in the heart of Kigali between a U.N. outpost ruled by a desperate general (Peter Hudson), and a fortified church where a Gallic priest (Philippe Nahon) shelters dozens of Tutsi refugees, the duo face an onslaught of misinformation and mutilated bodies, which Antoine tenaciously captures on video. In between their investigations, Clement tries to track down his missing Tutsi wife — an event over whose coverage the two colleagues ultimately part ways, and which pushes Antoine to question the moral limits of his metier.
While previous films about the 1994 massacre offered either a global account of the happenings or featured a few heroic individuals, Klotz’s restrained vision portrays, with extreme, at times awkward sincerity, the trauma of a journalist who can do little to stop the slaughter beyond transmitting images to the rest of the world. The helmer convincingly shows Antoine facing an insurmountable tide of confusion and death — something he never manages to overcome, and which ultimately pushes him in the closing segments to an obsession bordering on self-destruction.
Sharp HD visuals by d.p. Helene Louvart (“The Beaches of Agnes”) switch between Antoine’s recordings and the narrative itself, but both reveal events in a bare, docu style, as does Lespert’s intensely realistic performance. Soundwork by Myriam Rene and Arnaud Rolland is precise and haunting, while music is never used to enhance the drama.
Market screening caught at Cannes was a DigiBeta projection that made the HD footage look more newsreel-like than cinematic, though a 35mm transfer should add more warmth to the otherwise solid tech package. The clumsy and not very PC English-language title would be better off if it were switched to a literal translation of the French one, which means “Frontlines.”