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Grey Matter by Kivu Ruhorahoza (review)
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Reviewed by
Kivu Ruhorahoza. Grey Matter. Original Title: Matière Grise. 2011. Rwanda. Kinyarwanda and French, with English subtitles. 100 min. Scarab Studio (POV Productions), Global Film Initiative (distributor). No price reported.

Grey Matter (Matière Grise, 2011), directed by Kivu Ruhorahoza, contemplates the effects of the 1994 Rwandan genocide upon the psyche and the social world. It is the first feature-length narrative film directed by a Rwandan about the 1994 genocide, and the only to offer a Rwandan's rich visual interpretation of its impact. For this alone, Grey Matter holds a critical place within the film library of sub-Saharan Africa. But the film is also an important reflection on how Rwandans imagine, speak of, and visualize the relics of trauma. It traces, in different domains and voices, dynamics of abjection and pain and the ethics of love both in and beyond trauma. This careful attention to the psychosocial dynamics of trauma, loss, and witnessing offers much to contemporary reflections upon African modernity. How is it possible to recuperate what has been lost? How might a Rwandan subject mourn not only the loss of the object per se, but also the loss of a lovable and loved image of herself or himself? What, indeed, is a Rwandan subject within modernity?

The film draws our attention to these questions through its structure. There are three distinct stories, all of which are connected by trauma, and as the film progresses we begin to wonder which events happened and which exist in the minds of the characters. First, there is young Balthazar (Hervé Kimenyi) on his bed conceptualizing the script of a film, "The Cycle of the Cockroach" (Le cycle du cafard). He wants to produce the film in the capital city of Kigali, and he has approached the government for support. But they refuse to finance his film, suggesting instead that what the country needs is work about HIV prevention and domestic violence. No one, the administrator concludes, is interested in your film. Balthazar is not discouraged by the bad news, however, and he continues with plans for filming, telling an actress that the government money will soon be deposited in his account. [End Page 231]

This leads to the second part of the film, in which Balthazar's story takes shape in the portrait of a man, a wartime assassin, who is locked up in an asylum. His violence is focused upon a cockroach in a jar (the term cockroach was used by Hutu extremists to designate Tutsis during the genocide), and his fury against this small creature is fueled by the rhetoric being spouted from the radio in a seductively smooth female voice and the beer being passed through the bars of his cell window. The lines between the individual and the state begin to blur, along with our grasp of reality. Is it possible to consider his psyche without questioning the entire nation? We might return to Frantz Fanon, the Martinican psychotherapist who clearly articulated in Peau noire, masques blancs (1952) that in order to treat the psyche of patients during wars, it is important to revisit the entire system that has organized the war. Another key text is Moses and Monotheism (1939), in which Freud conceived of the difficulties of translating from the psyche of the individual to the psyche of the masses as a problem of historical investigation and historical depth. While describing the social conditions of his own writing under Nazi persecution and through his escape into exile, he asked what kind of evidence might support the notion of a social unconscious and the claim that groups and cultures retain unconscious memory traces of their past. As psychoanalytic theory and feminists have eloquently argued, the implications of responses to questions about psychic processes are always political. Enriching Freud's insight that the interrelations between the psyche and the social may be conceived as a problem of translation, Ruhorahoza problematizes the interrelations between the psychic and the social, suggesting new connections between psychoanalysis and social theory in this specific story of the Rwandan genocide.

In the third and final section, Balthazar concentrates on two siblings, Justine (Ruth Shanel Nierere) and Yvan (Ramadhan...