Lots of movies as stunning as Rwandaâ€™s â€œMatiÃ¨re Grise (Grey Matter)â€ languish on the festival circuit, but there arenâ€™t many that are as self-aware as this. Its distinct vocabulary of images and bold subject matter guarantee that it wonâ€™t be coming to a theater near you, and unless it gets into the Cannes Film Festival after playing at Tribeca, this is one of those movies thatâ€™s likely to have doomed itself to obscurity. The only other film as different as this that audiences caught onto was â€œEl Topo,â€ and that came out during the Nixon administration. Not a good sign.
Still, the energy behind this film comes from its own acceptance of how unconventional it is. Even one of the characters feels that way: Heâ€™s an aspiring filmmaker named Balthazar (HervÃ© Kimenyi) who canâ€™t get his debut feature â€œThe Cycle of the Cockroachâ€ off the ground because itâ€™s got no budget. After begging a potential backer for funding doesnâ€™t work, Balthazar confides in actress Mary (Natasha Muziramakenga) that heâ€™s bent on making it anyway, damn the expense. When he discusses with her a rape scene involving a cockroach as a metaphor for what women endure, the look on her face clears up any speculation as to why he canâ€™t find an investor.
As he goes through the dialogue alone in his room, we get a glimpse into his imagination to see the film he wants to bring to life, starting with the isolated drama of a madman (Jp Uwayezu). He shares a cell in an asylum with a cockroach he found and held captive in a glass, and until the rape, all we see him do is try to intimidate the bug with incessant hollering. The madmanâ€™s existence is as forlorn as his captiveâ€™s.
After that begins a different narrative about Yvan (Ramadhan Bizimana) and his sister Justine (Ruth Nirere), who takes care of him because of the post-traumatic-stress disorder he developed following the 1994 genocide. Given that heâ€™s had a helmet on for a pretty long time, and that he insists on leaving a bucket in the bathroom to fill with water and douse the flaming remains of family members in the images that haunt him, Justine concludes that sheâ€™ll need to do absolutely anything to help him.
With the exception of Uwayezuâ€™s inconsistent performance, the cast members do an excellent job of fleshing out director Kivu Ruhorahozaâ€™s concept of art as the cause of and answer to whatever ails us. It isnâ€™t as comprehensible as the blockbusters audiences have grown accustomed to, but then again, the human condition hardly ever is.