Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Shake Hands with the Devil

Obviously, Shake Hands with the Devil is worth watching. However, it suffers - albeit not too badly - when we compare it with other films dealing with the Rwandan Genocide (1994).

This movie tells the story of General Roméo Dallaire, a Canadian who led a UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda back in 1994. As the story progresses, Dallaire and his men will become the witness of a genocide. Unfortunately, as he's asked by his superiors not to take any military actions against radical Hutus, he'll gradually become haunted by his experience.

Shot without any style by director Roger Spottiswoode (Tomorrow Never Dies), Shake Hands with the Devil is, at best, a succession of images that tries to accurately reconstruct history. At best, Shake Hands with the Devil is a succession of images and scenes that are more faithful to History then one would believe. In fact, it is said in the DVD's special features that most places (from Rwanda) you see are actually places that General Romeo Dallaire has trodden such as the hill on which he delivers a speech to the Rwandan government on the behalf of the United Nations (UN) for instance.

However, the film's historical accuracy is not much of an asset in this case, because the scriptwriter takes for granted that the audience knows what the Rwandan Genocide is all about. How pretentious! Despite being good, Shake Hands with the Devil doesn't possess the depth and simplicity that made Hotel Rwanda, another movie on the Rwandan Genocide, such a wonderful movie. In fact, even if we know that the Tutsis and the Huutus opposed each other during the genocide, the movie doesn't explain the effect of Belgian colonialism in Rwanda's collective psyche. Hence, the importance to know how Rwanda became a country artificially divided by ethnicity.

Hopefully, the sober - and at the same time moving - performance of the cast gives us a good reason to watch the film to the end. As General Roméo Dallaire, Roy Dupuis (The Rocket) manages to astonish us. In fact, his performance illustrates the division between his field team which really wanted to save the Tutsis and the UN's bureaucrats taking decisions without knowing what's happening on the field (ordering Dallaire to take absolutely no action unless being attacked). Thus, the movie leaves us with an interesting political reflection: should UN peace keepers be allowed to take military actions to protect people?

Finally, unlike what we may think, Shake Hands with the Devil is definitely a well-made film. However, had it not been because of the film's hermetic nature, in terms of historical accessibility, the movie would have had a higher rating. Nonetheless, it's a movie that one must watch for the powerful message delivered by the movie.

Rating: 3.5/5

***

Canada (2007)
Length: 112 minutes
Genre: Historical drama
Screenplay: Michael Donovan
Directed by: Roger Spottiswoode
Starring: Roy Dupuis, James Gallanders, Michel Mongeau and Deborah Kara Unger


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