Eye For Film >> Movies >> Shake Hands With The Devil (2004) Film Review
This really is a MUST SEE film for everyone regardless of social or ethnic background - everyone with a conscience that is. As the Western world absorbed itself with the glamour of the OJ Simpson trial or rushed to avert ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Yugoslavia it simultaneously hung out to dry a man with integrity, responsible for peace-keeping in Rwanda.
The catalyst for this film is Romeo Dallaire’s book, which bears witness to the shameful behaviour of the UN and European communities regarding Rwanda and to the awful atrocities and mass genocide that was perpetrated there. It is filmed over a two-week trip with his wife Elizabeth as he revisits the people and places that have haunted him for the 10 years since he left the country and which have driven him to attempted suicide.
One of the lessons Dallaire quickly learned while on his mission in Rwanda is that the international community and the UN in particular is a toothless giant - unable to reach any proper humanitarian decision unless it is in its own self-interests. As Dallaire himself says: “Africa had nothing to sell, nothing to buy” and as a consequence was abandoned to its fate by those very nations who had created the rifts in the country in the first place.
No one goes unscathed. Whilst undoubtedly the UN should shoulder a large portion of the blame, the role of the Belgian and French governments who sparked much of the divisiveness in the country in the first place, the other Western nations who took their own subjects out of harms way but were not prepared to stay to help Dallaire keep the peace, the Catholic church who fuelled the flames, the Hutu militias who murdered indiscriminately, and hate radio are also examined.
As Dallaire says: “While most nations agree that something should be done, they all have an excuse why they should not be the ones to do it.” A sentiment that one cannot help but feel is being repeated in Darfur and Zimbabwe. The whole world knows what is going on, they just dodge behind the parapet, maintaining it is an African problem and that Western intervention is inappropriate. In the meantime, thousands of people are dying and losing their homes.
There are two truly shaming moments in the film, one is when Bill Clinton professes hollow sympathy, maintaining that he personally didn’t know or realise what was going on. Of course he did, the UN had been told so in no uncertain terms by Dallaire and his men but they just chose to ignore it because it did not promote any of their agendas.
The other is the Belgian diplomat who tries to make Dallaire the villain for not coming to the aid of 10 Belgian soldiers who were killed. This is deliberate and malicious sleight of hand and the most morally repugnant scene in the film (and that is saying something, considering that the film deals with genocide!) Firstly, why are 10 white men more important than the 800,000 Tsutsis who were slaughtered in a mere 100 days? And secondly, how does he justify his own government’s stand? They were the ones who first gave the nation the notion of racial group identity by listing ethnicity on ID cards and therefore caused the tension between Hutu and Tsutsi - yet it was the Belgians who were the first to abandon ship when tensions started to rise.
Dallaire consistently refutes the notion that he is a hero because for all those he protected and saved there are many more who were murdered. As he says, if someone puts a gun to a child’s head and tells him to kill another, and he hesitates and is shot, what then happens to the next child who is chosen? He will kill or be killed and when you have killed once, the next time it becomes easier and easier. Dallaire insists that he is a witness to what happened and it is fair to say that integrity shines out of him.
Because director Peter Raymont accompanied Dallaire and Elizabeth on their visit to Rwanda to mark the 10th anniversary of the massacre, this trip is not merely a window on to what happened but a kind of therapy that brings this tortured man a measure of peace. As a result it can be quite painful to watch, not just because of the horrific news footage of 1994 events but also due to the clearly disturbing memories that Dallaire is haunted by.
Whilst Dallaire is plagued with self-doubt and cannot forgive himself for not doing more to stop the atrocities, it is hard to imagine anyone else who could have dealt with such a situation with minimal support from the international community with such courage, compassion and dignity.
There are those who have cynically said it is a distasteful irony that this documentary focuses on a massive and abominable slaughter of Africans through the eyes of a rich French Canadian general in a fortified compound. To them I will say this, that it is an even bigger and more repulsive irony that there were any number of journalists who thought it more important to report on the ridiculous OJ Simpson, whilst hundreds of thousands were dying in Rwanda. Thank God for Romeo Dallaire who didn’t abandon his humanity and determination to do something for the people of that country in the midst of unimaginable carnage, while the western world turned a blind eye.
Tony Blair once said that Africa was a scar on our conscience but the truth is that it is an open, raw and bloody wound and we still choose to prevaricate rather than attempt to help staunch the flow. The devils of the title of both book and film are the Interahamwe - the Hutu militia who orchestrated the bloodshed and who Dallaire was forced to meet face to face as part of numerous futile initiatives to stop the carnage. As he says, they were chilling encounters with men whose eyes were the eyes of death and yet it is not only them that he holds ultimately accountable it is our Western indifference.
How do we apportion moral responsibility for what happened in Rwanda? This film goes a long way to answering that question but it also poses another. As Dallaire says, "We still haven't gotten past self-interest as the primary reason for acting. I don't think there's anything to suggest that if it happened again, things would be any different."
The true strength of this film is that you see the events through the eyes of Dallaire. This is a man you would want commanding you in war. A man who despite witnessing the most appalling atrocities, never forgot his own humanity. He is visibly moved by situations and people and always leads by example. And this is leadership with a capital L! This film is simultaneously an incredibly powerful indictment of the Western world’s apathy and feeble excuses when it comes to trying to right some of the wrongs currently perpetrated in Africa and a testament to the innate goodness of man.Reviewed on: 19 Nov 2007
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