Netflix’s Trees of Peace tells the story of four women who hide in an underground cellar during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda. Despite facing terrible circumstances, they overcome their differences and develop an unbreakable bond of sisterhood.
Trees of Peace opens introduces the conflict that Rwanda faced by in 1994. As the Hutu president was killed in April, members of the ethnic group began eliminating the rival Tutsis across the country, resulting in the death of over 1 million people in three months.
This animosity between the two sections had been triggered by Belgian colonisers in the early 1900s. Amid the murder en masse, a pregnant Hutu woman, Annick (Eliane Umuhire), hides in an underground storage area of her house, beneath the kitchen, with three other women, rescued by her husband Francois (Tongayi Chirisa).
As Francois goes away to get more supplies, the women get acquainted with each other. The first of the remaining three ladies is an American volunteer at the local church, Peyton (Ella Cannon), followed by a nun, Jeanette (Charmaine Bingwa), and finally a Tutsi farm girl, Mutesi (Bola Koleosho).
The plot then follows them overcoming their differences and forming an unbreakable bond as they survive in that hole for over 80 days, clinging to life and hoping for peace.
The four lead actresses are exceptional. Their performances feel eerily authentic and transport you into the terror that surrounds them. From facial expressions and body language to dialogue delivery and subtle nuances, nothing is amiss.
It is safe to say that Umuhire, Cannon, Bingwa, and Koleosho are simply fantastic, and do justice to the back stories given to their respective characters. Each has their own conflict, pain, and demons to overcome. However, at no point do any of the two women feel like the same person.
Considering that the entirety of the film is shot in close ups or half body shots, these women were required to be on the top of their game and they come out all guns blazing.
The topic of the Rwandan genocide is very unknown to the rest of the world and director Alanna Brown does an amazing job to paint a picture for the uneducated audience.
The artistic choice of keeping the narrative within the confines of the underground hole pays off. The claustrophobic setting adds to the horror. It allows the actors to display their acting chops and at the same time portrays the gradual fleeting of life and hope as days pass.
The themes in this film are well defined and layered. As the characters come to terms with their past traumas, the film gives them an opportunity to heal as they find peace within themselves. There are parallels between life and death, faith and reality, anger and acceptance, among other things.
There are truly horrific moments in the film that are not easy to watch. However, they are extremely necessary to showcase the ruthlessness of the genocide that resulted in so much death, abuse and trauma.
The camera work in Trees of Peace is sublime. Some shots are angled uniquely to include everyone in a single frame while others zoom into a character’s face when the story requires it. Subtle camera trickery is used to curate some brilliant scenes that do not include any cuts.
There isn’t much to fault in this beautiful piece of cinema except its slightly repetitive writing. The dread and hopelessness still follows these women till the end but there is a slight disconnect towards the third act as the dialogues becomes preachy and their interactions become repetitive.
Slightly better stitching together of scenes or marginally improved dialogues would have probably helped the flow of Trees of Peace. Furthermore, a slightly increased visual emphasis on the conditions outside would have been better for people yearning to know more about the situation.
We just get to know of the evolving tragedy via Annick’s husband who occasionally shows up to provide rations for the women.
Trees of Peace is a love letter to the women of Rwanda, who have evolved as capable leaders of their country since the genocide. It is a roller coaster to sit through and takes on an emotional journey that you won’t soon forget.
Also Read: Trees of Peace summary and ending explained