Shake Hands with the Devil
Winter 2008 Edge series
Friday, March 28, 2008 at 4:00pm
Friday, March 28, 2008 at 7:00pm
Directed by Roger Spottiswoode
Screenplay by Roméo Dallaire and Michael Donovan
Based on the book by Roméo Dallaire
Starring Odile Katesi Gakire, Jean-Hugues Anglade, Owen Lebakeng Sejake, Michel Mongeau, James Gallanders, Roy Dupuis, and Deborah Kara Unger
Rated 14A ·
English and French
Shake Hands with the Devil is the story of a Canadian commander torn between his duty and his conscience when he finds himself eyewitness to hell on earth. In 1993 the United Nations dispatches Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire (Roy Dupuis, The Rocket) to far-off Rwanda to oversee a fragile cease-fire. A brilliant, workaholic officer and charismatic commander, Dallaire encounters the shabby — sometimes comically shabby — reality of a typical UN peacekeeping operation: underfunded, over-bureaucratic, and cobbled together from military units from dozens of countries, each with a slightly different agenda. Meanwhile the peace agreement between the rebels, led by the minority ethnic group, the Tutsi, and the French-supported government dominated by the majority group, the Hutu, turns out to rest on shaky ground. Conciliatory speeches are undercut by mysterious massacres. Just months after Dallaire raises the UN flag, an unknown group shoots down the President’s plane. Are the rebels to blame or the Hutu extremists in the President’s own party? (Nobody knows to this day.) With the plane crash, the storm breaks and a secret but long-planned genocidal campaign against the Tutsi minority begins with a night of terror in Kigali.
Given neither the authority nor sufficient forces to avert the crisis, Lieutenant-General Dallaire nonetheless does his utmost to stem the bloodshed. As he negotiates with the complex personalities of the Rwandan military men and politicians on both sides to prevent the resurgence of the civil war, he has to confront mounting evidence that a deliberate massacre of the innocents is underway. While trying to take decisive action to stop the genocide, he is undercut by his own far-away superiors — who have their own political interests to protect — and by the studied indifference of the world’s great powers. As he learns to his fury, it seems to be in nobody’s ‘interest’ to save almost a million Rwandan lives.
Powerless to prevent the country’s descent into hell, Lieutenant-General Dallaire is ordered home. He disobeys. He insists on staying to save those he can from the genocide, while trying to do everything possible to stop it. When the Belgians pull out their contingent, after ten of their soldiers are killed — shades of Mogadishu — he must stand by and watch as his best-equipped troops leave. When New York cancels the peace mission entirely, he knows his only chance for reinforcement lies with helping the media cover the almost unspeakable truth of what is happening in Rwanda. Promising journalists a story every day if they will stay, Lieutenant-General Dallaire attempts to shame the international community into action.
In the end, he saves some 30,000 people, but 800,000 have died in the span of only a hundred days. What he was able to do seems to him all too little, and he returns to Canada a shattered, haunted man who has lost everything but his sense of his continued mission to remind the world that the tragedy of Rwanda could have been prevented — and that new genocides like the one taking place in Darfur demand effective intervention by the larger world.