Dir. Roger Spottiswoode. Canada 2007, 113 Mins.
The tragic recent history that informed Hotel Rwanda is viewed from another angle in Shake Hands with the Devil. Viewed from the perspective of General Romeo Dallaire, who commanded United Nations forces during the 1993 crisis, it paints a picture of broader dimension that makes the earlier film appear restrained by comparison. The horror is as vividly recalled but the implications of indifference and inaction are also observed close up and without blinking.
The antithesis of a commercial warm bath, the film has the requisite emotional force and artistry to work at the top end of the commercial market for tough-minded movies. The subject matter should fuel the type of publicity that translates into respectable box office and the addition of awards attention would provide an additional asset for an audience undaunted by films of a sobering nature.
The film opens with Dallaire's (Roy Dupuis) arrival in Rwanda as commander of a peace keeping operation. It is a moment of tranquility as a cease fire has been negotiated between the nation's embattled Hutu majority and Tutsi tribe.
The film was shot in Rwanda, and offers the opportunity to see the country's breathtaking natural beauty and the fragility of the cessation of violence. The tribal enmity is obvious, as is the tension between the country's militia and a government dominated by moderate Hutu leaders.
Director Roger Spottiswoode deftly sidesteps embellished dramatics for signposts of impending change. Photos of covert, strategically located arms caches arrive from an anonymous source and when the commander passes his concerns on to U.N. authorities, they wet blanket the warning signal.
Matters come to a boil when the Rwandan President's plane is shot down and the military step in, undaunted by world opinion or protestations from the sitting government.
Apart from the graphic horror attendant to the 'slaughter of innocence,' the film suggests that the villainy rests squarely on the shoulders of United Nations officials and the American and French authorities who were unprepared to step into the fray.
Dallaire is shocked as his authority appears to be diminished proportionally to the escalation of the genocide and when ordered to evacuate along with the multi-national force, he flatly refuses and wins the showdown.
It's not surprising that Dallaire's experiences led to a subsequent breakdown and a period of alcohol abuse that subtly figures into Michael Donovan's script.
Shake Hands with the Devil also benefits from a docudrama format rather than a documentary-style evocation.
Dupuis gives an appropriately contained performance and the first class production values knit seamlessly into the drama.
Barna-Alper/DHX Media Productions
Seville Pictures (Can)
International sales (excluding North America)
(44) 20 7734 3566
Michael Donovan, based on the autobiography by Romeo Dallaire
Owen Lebakeng Sejake
Deborah Kara Unger