- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 16, 2005

Despite laudatory reviews, the sobering and edifying Canadian documentary “Shake Hands With the Devil” encountered a wall of resistance during engagements in New York and Boston. It would be discouraging to see Washington follow suit now that the film is available at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

Why the resistance?

The favorite theory seems to be that “Hotel Rwanda” exhausted the market for movies about the massacres of 1994. “Devil” revisits the calamity from the point of view of (Ret.) Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian officer who commanded the United Nations “peacekeeping” force in Rwanda. A totally inadequate complement of about 300, these Blue Berets were never equal to the task of preventing a systematic slaughter (an estimated 800,000 victims) of the Tutsi population by their armed and merciless antagonists among the Hutu majority.

Gen. Dallaire is encountered on the 10th anniversary of the bloodbath. He was invited to speak at memorial ceremonies by the present Rwandan government. The movie shares a title and subject with the general’s recently published memoir, in which he recalls his disillusionment and despair as his pleas for military action against impending genocide fell on deaf diplomatic ears, principally at the United Nations.

Joined by a number of patriotic well-wishers, understandably bitter at the way Canadian goodwill and trust were abused, the general returns to killing grounds that haunted him enough to provoke suicidal depression when he returned home in the summer of 1994. Team Dallaire reserves special contempt for the Belgian and French governments for, respectively, withdrawing the only army in the country (about 2,500 troops) that might have prevented a Hutu onslaught and for colluding with their homicide-ready militias on a systematic basis.

Brief but stinging rebukes are also reserved for two willfully oblivious Americans, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who was ambassador to the U.N. during the crisis, and former President Bill Clinton. The latter is seen during an official apology visit to Rwanda in 1998.

In the general’s estimate, prudent intervention would have meant, at the very least, raids on suspected Hutu arsenals. Sadly, a deliberate targeting of 10 Belgian troops seems to have sown enough fear and consternation in “the international community” to hasten a European retreat and leave the Tutsis to their fate.

Not everything about the general and his defenders is sympathetic. In particular, the ease with which they sometimes wax nostalgic about a lost mission is a bit unnerving. But one should be reluctant to jump to uncharitable conclusions about anyone abandoned as conspicuously as Gen. Dallaire. His boots were more or less nailed to the ground by craven civilian authorities who preferred to sleepwalk through the Rwandan crisis.

***

TITLE: “Shake Hands With the Devil”

RATING: No MPAA rating (adult subject matter, concerned with the Rwandan massacres of 1994; occasional profanity and some documentary footage of mass slaughter)

CREDITS: Directed by Peter Raymont. Based in part on the book of the same title by (Ret.) Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire and Maj. Brent Beardsley. Cinematography by John Westheuser. Sound by Ao Loo. Editing by Michele Hozer. Music by Mark Korven. Some scenes in French with English subtitles.

RUNNING TIME: 91 minutes

WEB SITE: www.whitepinepictures.com/dallairesite/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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