________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV . . . . August 31, 2007


Shake Hands With the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire.

Peter Raymont (Director). Patrick Reed (Associate Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2004.
91 min., VHS or DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153C 9904 347.

Subject Headings:
Dallaire, Romeo A.
Genoside - Rwanda.
Rwanda - History - Civil Ware, 1994 - Atrocities.

Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.

Review by Joanne Peters.

***½ /4

In 1994, Lieutenant General Roméo Dallaire was the commander of an under-funded, and ultimately, ill-fated U. N. peacekeeping mission to Rwanda. In the course of 100 days, more than 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu tribes people of that country became the victims of genocide. How, and more importantly, why, did this happen? As with most conflicts, the answers are never easy, nor straightforward.

     Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire begins with Dallaire's returning to Rwanda for a tenth anniversary commemoration. He is candid about his (and his family's) ongoing struggle to live with the post-traumatic stress disorder that has resulted from his experience; seven years passed before he could write his book (also entitled Shake Hands with the Devil), which, itself, took three years to complete. This NFB documentary is both a very personal attempt to confront the devils of Dallaire’s own past, as well as to examine the larger, international political issues. It is an intense film, and much is contained in its 91 minutes of running time. Dallaire is critical of past colonial powers who used ethnic rivalries and hatreds to their advantage and thus sowed the seeds of future conflict in Rwanda. The role of the United Nations' effectiveness as a peace-keeping institution is also questioned, and most certainly, the UN falls short. Placed in the context of the time, we become amazed that much of the Western world was perversely interested in the events of the O. J. Simpson trial, and yet, seemed incapable of showing any sort of outrage at events in Africa. Both Dallaire and Stephen Lewis suggest that such moral failure is indicative of racism: Africa is black and has no economic importance.

     But, as important as the political issues are, it is the human issues which dominate this film. The refugee camps in which thousands existed were deplorable, and on his return visit, Dallaire describes the horror in vivid detail, depicted through past news footage. But horrible as living conditions were, it is death which is ever-present in this film. Shake Hands with the Devil is above all, an exploration of evil, and the ways in which humans become inhuman, losing more and more of their inhibitions with each act of violence. No place was sacred, and no one was safe anywhere: in one scene, we see the church where Tutsis were killed, parishioners murdering each other. Dead bodies were left on road sides or floating in rivers, stripped of all their dignity.

     Despite all the evil that he saw and experienced, Dallaire still believes in the possibility of its antithesis, of "the purest of good" and of the value of all human lives. The film concludes with Dallaire and his wife attending Mass at a Rwandan church on Palm Sunday, a holy day on which each member of the congregation holds a palm leaf, symbol of the triumph of peace. When Dallaire first came to Rwanda, he saw it as an Edenic place, a paradise where, ironically, he and his men were charged with bringing peace. Certainly, no real peace has come to Rwanda, and for Dallaire, a man seen as a hero by many, personal peace is elusive. The mission to Rwanda failed because he could not, in his words, "shame the international community" into giving it the support that it deserved.

     Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire is a powerful film, and its length necessitates its being viewed in segments. At the very least, viewers need to have a basic knowledge of the conflict in Rwanda in order to follow the film's political content. Anyone planning to use the DVD needs to preview it themselves and must carefully consider the students in their classes, as well as consider just how they will use it as a teaching resource. This is definitely not a film that is used to fill up an unplanned class period. This is not a film for the faint of heart or faint of stomach; the scenes of violence and its aftermath are truly frightening.  Nevertheless, Shake Hands with the Devil offers much to its viewers. Additional teaching resources bundled with the DVD are a 52-minute long French-language version, a photo gallery slide show, reading lists, documents and sources. At times, it is emotionally-draining to watch. But, it is a story that deserves telling, and thoughtful, mature viewers.  

Highly Recommended.

Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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