In “Trees of Peace,” directed by Alanna Brown, four women with different personal histories spend 81 days together in a basement during the Rwanda genocide. The 1994 genocide was against the Tutsi minority, where the Hutus attacked not just the Tutsis but also the Hutu and Twa moderates. Tutsis were referred to as cockroaches by the Hutus who wanted complete dominance in Rwanda. Women were rampantly raped and murdered in broad daylight. For around a hundred days, the savagery continued. The whole world received news of the thousands who were losing their lives, yet no country interfered.
‘Trees Of Peace’ Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?
Beneath the sunlit house with bright walls was a dark basement, originally created to store food, but was now inhabited by four women. Out of the four, three were saved by Hutu moderates, while one was a Hutu moderate herself. Annick was pregnant with a boy, and her husband, Francois, asked his wife to stay safe in the basement while he went away in search of food and help. Annick had always treated every person equally, and for that, she now has to pay the price. Francois was a school teacher who taught both Hutus and Tutsis. Since they refused to follow the extremist path, their names were listed on the list of people to be executed in Rwanda.
Mutesi, a Tutsi woman who lived in the basement with the rest, could not accept the fact that a Hutu woman was staying with them. After witnessing Hutu men with machetes slaughtering Tutsis, she feared sharing the room with Annick. Annick explained how her life was equally in danger since she and her husband helped the Tutsis. Mutesi was bold with her words. She feared the boy Annick was bringing into the world, knowing how Hutu men were turning into bloodthirsty savages. Annick was forgiving; she knew Mutesi had a reason for her hateful words. She explained that she had had four miscarriages in the past. She knew what pain was when four babies died inside her own body. She had loved her husband since childhood, and their baby boy was their ray of hope and reason to survive.
Accompanying them was a Christian nun, Jeanette, who preached the lessons of forgiveness. She firmly believed in God and how He would show her the right path. Even after watching and listening to a gruesome act, she refused to judge the man. She believed it is only God who can judge a man. But as time passed by, she started to question herself, who she was, and why she had become a nun. Her beliefs and hope started to fall apart with time. She believed in prayers, but she also accepted that she was just like the rest, hoping to survive the test of time. The fourth one living in the basement was Peyton. An American girl who had come to Rwanda to teach and was a part of the Peace Projects. While the rest looked down upon her white privilege, with time, they learned that even though she was White, her life was far from perfect. She showed the camaraderie and refused to leave the basement until the rest could also be saved from the danger that loomed.
How Did The Four Women Bond?
They were locked inside a box with barely enough space for two to sleep while the other two waited for their turn. Annick believed Francois would come within a day or two. They had hoped that the UN would interfere and stop the massacre. While they waited for help from outside, the women wanted to use the restroom. Annick informed them that the basement room had a lock on the outside and, therefore, could only be opened from the outside. Mutesi panicked after learning this fact. She feared that they would be stuck there forever. The women held on to their needs, but it was getting difficult to control with time. Peyton found a solution. She noticed how a wooden slab in the base was loose, and beneath it, there was a small hole. Peyton and Mutesi pulled the slab off the ground with all their strength, and that spot was used as their makeshift bathroom.
One day, they heard screams outside; a woman was being hunted by the Hutu men. Jeanette planned to call her inside the basement, but Annick stopped her. She believed it would be unsafe. Peyton came up with the idea of throwing something at her instead of using her voice to call her. But just at that moment, two men grabbed hold of her. Jeanette was relieved because she knew one of the two men. His name was Pascal. He was a member of her church; the choir boy, whom she believed to be a good Hutu. She was stopped by the rest of them from calling him. Her belief was shattered when the boy she thought to be well raped the woman and slashed open her throat afterward. Mutesi blamed Annick for not saving the woman when they had the chance to. She believed that Peyton could have found help outside and that, instead of her, a Tutsi woman should have been protected. Mutesi harshly added that Francois was probably dead, and that was the reason why he could not return to save them all.
Even though they had different beliefs and different upbringings, they were united by their suffering. All four women had traumatic pasts, and that helped them understand each other a little better with time. Annick had to live through four miscarriages. She fought through the tough times just like she had before. Mutesi’s uncle used to rape her when she was young. Every woman around her knew what her uncle did to her, yet they remained quiet. Mutesi started to bond with the rest because she did not wish to be like those quiet women who did nothing to end the suffering of another woman. Jeanette’s father used to rape and torture her mother, and that forced her mother to commit suicide. Her father was a priest, and she followed in his footsteps to become a nun. She had always considered what her mother did to be the greatest sin, something that her father taught her, but now she questioned the past. Peyton was suicidal. She was driving with her brother one day, which led to his death. She could not forgive herself, and neither could her family. She was always made to feel that she should have been the one to die in that car accident. Jeanette initially judged Peyton for attempting to take her life, but she realized the pain she felt and how much she suffered to feel that way. Even though Peyton had always wanted to die, she could not make herself do it. When the days were getting tough with food shortages and no ray of hope, Peyton looked at her hands and declared that she wanted to live, now more than ever.
‘Trees Of Peace’ Ending Explained – How Were The Four Women Saved? What Does The Title Of The Film Symbolize?
Peyton carried a few food items and a book titled “Seeds of Love, Trees of Peace” by Susan Elijah Kern. Annick wanted to read the book, but she hadn’t read English for ten years. Then, Peyton read it for her. All the women listened closely to the tale of how seeds of love were spread all across the world, a ray of hope in their trying times. As they started to listen to Peyton read the tale of hope and love, Francois came to them with food; it was almost a divine coincidence. Francois managed to survive, but he could not easily come home since there were road blockades all around. He promised to come back again for his wife and his child.
The women read the book over and over again. Annick attempted to read again after years, and Peyton helped her learn the language better. The wall of the room was now covered in words. They wrote their names, they wrote their dreams, and they wrote about what they were going through. Annick named her unborn child Elijah, inspired by the author’s name. Elijah’s name was added to the list of those who lived in the room. Annick wrote letters to her child, every experience, every feeling, about the women who accompanied her and the challenging times they were living in. Francois visited them at intervals and provided them with food; however, the gaps started to increase, and the women fed on rotten food. They were losing their strength; their bodies had become weak and their bones fragile. Annick’s son had stopped kicking, and she started to assume that he was losing his heartbeat. They were losing hope, they huddled together and spent the days. On the 77th day, Francois came with food and good news. He informed them that the rebel army was gaining control and that the roadblocks were now mostly abandoned. He asked them to wait for a day, and he would return to take them to the Hotel des Mille Collines.
They waited the night, hoping to be saved the next day, but they heard vehicles approaching. The Hutu men questioned the neighbor, Peter, about Francois. When he refused to answer, he was asked to kill Tutsi children. Peter tried to do what they asked of him, but he gave up and disclosed where Francois was hiding. He, along with the children, was immediately shot dead. Annick gave up. Without her husband, she lost her will to fight for her survival. Mutesi was playing with a fruit cutter when it occurred to her that they could use it to create a gap and push open the lid of the room. All of them together pushed with all their strength. Annick initially did not join them, but when her baby kicked again, she regained her power. She had to survive for the child, and she joined them, and they finally opened the door. They climbed up one after the other and were relieved to feel the sun on their skin again. Though right after they heard a vehicle approach, they thought it was the Hutu men who came back looking for Annick, but as it turned out, it was the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) along with Francois. They had come to transfer the women to a safe place. Francois explained that the Hutu men had killed everyone at the school he was hiding at, but he had been away during that time as he had gone to bury a little girl who had passed away. The girl’s spirit saved his life, and he was reunited with his wife and son.
“Trees of Peace,” at the end, discusses how, after the genocide, women took charge and led a movement for healing, peace, and forgiveness. As a result of those women who took charge today, Rwanda now has the highest percentage of women appointed to the government of any nation. Thousands of victims forgave their perpetrators due to the Gacaca initiative. The victims are now trying to find peace with their neighbors. “Trees of Peace” is an impactful indie film that hits all the right notes. Even though the characters were trapped in that small space, they managed to grow together. They learned to see beyond their prejudices and found a stark resemblance. They were all marked with guilt, shame, and violation. In that small space, they learned to forgive each other and themselves, a virtue that later resonated in the entire country.
“Trees of Peace” is a 2022 Drama film written and directed by Alanna Brown.