Shake Hands with the Devil

In English (2007)

This movie is about the experiences of General Romeo Dallaire (Roy Dupuis) during the Rwandan genocide, and the effect it had on his life. I decided not to watch it because the content is just too upsetting for me personally. Rather than not cover the movie at all, I asked members of the Roy Dupuis fan list Amis par Roy to contribute their impressions, and got several thoughtful responses. Thank you to everyone who contributed.

I saw the film on a River's gathering, in June. Excellent movie, but it shook me to my soul. Hotel Rwanda had a more hopeful ending. Shake Hands with the Devil did not. Shake Hands with the Devil was important in that I felt it had a more realistic ending. Perhaps it is because I am very involved with Darfur, and human rights. The very atrocities that were brought forth in this movie are happening in Darfur today and in several places around the world. I felt that you could play this movie and put a different title on it and the message would be "this still goes on -- TODAY!" Rwanda does give some hope, today. They seem to be getting on with their lives and progressing, minus the droughts. I'm sure it is an uneasy peace and thoughts of the civil war are never far from their minds.
-- Sharon

[It] was wonderful... and awful. Hotel Rwanda was nowhere near as good as Shake Hands with the Devil. Apparently, Shake Hands with the Devil was far more accurate; e.g., if a killing took place in, say, a certain street, then it was made that way for the film. Everything was in the right place and was accurate. Whereas, Hotel Rwanda was really just a story. As Romeo Dallaire said, no one came to him and asked him anything for the making of Hotel Rwanda. Roy was wonderful. He just BECAME Dallaire, as he often does with his characters, and was so sensitive.
-- Susan

I have seen Shake Hands with the Devil three times and have read the book twice. The subject is very disturbing. I think watchers get caught up in the atrocities and miss the point of this film -- that everyday soldiers/warriors suffer silently as a result of performing their responsibilities.
-- Barb

I was a subscriber to Time magazine for a long time and remember, quite vividly, reading about Rwanda and looking at the pictures the photographers were taking to call attention to that situation back in 1994. I can also recall crying, from anger, compassion, pain and incapacity, when I saw the photos of men, women and children beaten and cut to death with machetes and other weapons. It moved me greatly at the time and then, like they did to most people, all these facts fell into oblivion. Other genocides happened since then and are still happening in different parts of the globe. If our generation can't stop these atrocities from happening, maybe the future generations, based on sufficient collective knowledge, can shout out loud NO MORE and impose a radical reversal of the way men and nations do war.

So, when I watched the movie, I really knew what to expect, and though it moved me deeply, it didn't shock me as much as those Time 1994 photos. Nevertheless, we can see and feel the vulnerability of the Tutsi people, their fear, their suffering, their trying to flee the horror and their dignity. On the other hand, we can also grasp the arrogance, malevolence and prepotency of those in power and the sheer cruelty that humans can exact on fellow humans. But these are the "normal" conditions of a power struggle in an armed take-over movement (and in almost all absolute dictatorships): the oppressed and the oppressors, the vulnerability and the arrogance, the suffering and the cruelty. The soldiers are aware of these conditions and play by the rules that apply, but the civilians get caught in the middle of the conflict and are stunned by the hatred all around, especially because they can't absorb why a neighbour, a friend or a relative can suddenly become fierce enemies for reasons beyond their understanding.

We can see this in the movie. The commander of the Tutsi rebel army (the character?), who is the current president of Rwanda (if I'm not mistaken), displays a clear awariness of the situation and a sense of the inevitability of the bloody conflict to come. He is portrayed as a reasonable and efficient man, who can discuss with the general and accede to his requests. The other side, well, they have the temporary power and they aim to retain it by eliminating all opposition or potential opposition as faster as possible. And the genocide happens. The civilians are lost and the escape routes are closed. So, they die by the hundreds of thousands and their corpses are left all around.

What most moved me in this film was the general himself. Of course we are seeing what happened through his eyes and feelings, his heart and mind. Bias or no bias, I think he did remain faithful to all that occurred. We can feel the general's enormous capacity for compassion, his emotional deterioration, his stubbornness in trying to maintain peace and bring reason to the negotiating table and to the opposing chiefs, his constant disappointments, his generosity to his men, his final breakdown. The politics are well described: the orders and counter-orders of his superiors at the United Nations, the indifference of the foreign ambassadors and the lack of a strong attitude on the part of the president of Rwanda who was later killed in an aircraft accident, a fact that favored the chaos that ensued. We can feel the water starting to boil in the pan.

Roy's performance is, in a way, astounding. He beautifully shows the anger, the compassion, the anguish, the frustration, the authority, the courage and the pain. But I felt, in a few takes, that he gave the impression of following a strict script and he seemed tied. But these were very few occasions. He really gives a grand performance and bring us very close to his character. We suffer with him and we feel all his other emotions.
-- Glorita

What happened in Rwanda was horrifying and as a people we have a responsibility to do what we can, no matter how small, to keep such things from happening again. Roy and I actually spoke about this briefly in June. He stressed that we as a people, the human race needs to stop competing with each other and start helping each other. We have a long way to go.

Many of the images in Shake Hands were difficult to watch, the feelings hard to handle. But what I got out of the movie was ... hope. General Dallaire has said over and over again that he didn't do enough. He went into mental breakdown because he felt that he failed. Yet, he made a huge difference. One man, standing up for what he knew to be right, against all odds saved thousands. One man made the choice to do what was right over what was easy. I would imagine that the people who lived through the massacre do not think he failed, that he did make a difference. He is still making a difference.

I may not be a Dallaire, but I can try to make a difference every day in the lives that I touch. Roy and the General are wonderful examples of that: they do it everyday. I may not save thousands (or rivers), but if I can touch the life of even one other person and make that life better, more positive, then I won't be a failure, either. We, each of us, following the example that the General set forth in Rwanda, that Roy sets forth with the rivers, can start making the positive changes we wish to see in the world.

Roy's performance was amazing, and it still affects him. He is haunted by Rwanda even now. He became the General (as he does with all his characters) and that allowed the people watching the movie to really understand who this man was and put a very real face on the tragedy that occurred.
-- Seals Lady

I think I looked at Shake Hands differently than some of the others. I looked at the movie as Gen. Dallaire's story regarding not getting any help to stop the genocide from the UN. It was bloody and gory, but my thoughts were on the general most of the time and his problems with not being able to do anything for the people of Rwanda.
-- Signme

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