Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire (2004)

One would not think that the story of an elderly Canadian man could also be a profound and emotional telling of the Rwandan genocide. Media coverage (pointedly after the fact) of the genocide and the conditions that led to it has been abundant but in Shake Hands with the Devil, we are presented with a totally unique victim of the atrocities. Romeo Dallaire is an injured soul and the film takes us on a journey to see the devils that tore apart a country and the mind of a UN general.

The mass killings, rotting bodies, and demonic men with machetes tell a gruesome and horrible tale that turns the stomach and hurts the mind. The genocide evokes emotions such as sadness and confusion. Anger, however, is the emotion most strongly connected with the UN, the catholic church, and the world community at large. Dallaire expresses his frustration and anger at the UN for abandoning the country despite having relevant information, the church for not trying to prevent genocide, and the world for simply ignoring the situation. Former General Dallaire gives a speech on the tenth anniversary of the genocide where he bluntly tells survivors that what happened happened because the world does not care about a small African nation with no resources. The token western representatives present do not seem pleased.

Ultimately the story is about one man who watched a disaster unfold with his hands tied and was changed to the point where alcoholism and suicide were his natural escapes.  Ten years later, as the former general tours the country; we can see the nightmares in his eyes. His pain is vivid at times as he recalls the paradise he entered and the hell he left. At other times we can see that healing has taken place such as during a reunion with his soldiers. He is excited to meet survivors whose very existence lifts Dallaire’s spirit because he can share some of the pain with someone. We see that he is trying to accept his role and as hard as that must be, he has taken a huge step by returning to the scene. The general is able to laugh and smile even when recalling overwhelming situations and seems to have finally made some peace with the rolling green hills of Rwanda.


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