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Shake hands with the Devil.

For Canadians waiting for our part of the story to be brought to the silver screen since a brief glimpse of Nick Nolte's unnamed character in the Hollywood blockbuster Hotel Rwanda, the time has arrived. Although Shake Hands With The Devil will not likely outshine the Oscar-nodded Hotel Rwanda, it effectively highlights the efforts of Canadian Lt.-Gen. Romeo Dallaire, the commander of the hapless United Nations peacekeeping mission during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The film closely follows the autobiography by Dallaire published in 2003, and documentary released in 2004, all partially funded by the general-turned senator himself, and all telling the tale of the genocide through his hands-on perspective of the events.

The film haphazardly attempts to make an emotional connection with the audience, through PTSD flashbacks by Dallaire's character played by fellow Quebecer Roy Dupuis (pictured above). The "softer side" scenes of an emofonally destroyed Dallaire face-to-face with his psychiatrist lack the dramatics of the actual location footage of Kigali in the film. Where Canadian director Roger Spottiswoode did succeed is in shedding some projected light on the helplessness Dallaire felt in the time of crisis as a peacekeeper in the early 1990s.

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), the contingent headed by Dallaire a few months previous to the collapse of order, was essentially told to pull out of the remerging Rwandan civil war between Hum rebels, and ethnic Tutsis and Hutu moderates. With the collapse of the demilitarized zone, Dallaire's character reaches an emotional climax when he demands a proper burial for the bodies of his men who were killed after staying behind to back him in his plan to protect what refugees they could.

This film demonstrates the failure of post-Cold War UN peacekeeping and its ideals of remaining neutral during full-fledged fighting. With UN directed commands to withhold fire unless fired on in full-fledges chaos, and an eventual abandonment by the international community, Dallaire, and a few hundred soldiers, are left to literally watch while a country is slaughtered before their eyes. In doing so, the general essentially becomes the poster child for a failed concept of passive UN peacekeeping.

Spottiswoode said there were only two minor innuendos that he would have changed in the film in retrospect. The seemingly threatening tone of Commander Kagame in the onset and the location and magnitude of bodies that float in the fiver at the end.

As for Dallaire's reaction to the film. "Dallaire said that he spent the first five minutes of the movie watching Dupuis and the rest watching himself," according to Spottiswoode.

Shake Hands With The Devil premiered at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival and is now in wide release.
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Author:Tillotson, Donna
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Date:Oct 1, 2007
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