Sunday, September 30, 2007

Shake Hands with the Devil in Theatres

I have to recommend a new film I saw yesterday, "Shake Hands with the Devil". This is an outstanding Canadian film that tells the story of the Rwandan genocide from the point of view of an outstanding Canadian, Lt-General Roméo Dallaire. General Dallaire was in command of a United Nations peacekeeping force in Rwanda, assigned there in 1993 to oversee ceasefire negotiations between the armies of the then-Hutu government and Tutsi exiles. Extremist factions launched the country into chaos and initiated a systematic massacre of civilians in 1994. Abandoned by the UN bureaucracy and helpless to prevent the ensuing genocide that claimed some 1,000,000 civilian lives, Dallaire and a tiny remnant of his original force nonetheless remained in the country to save an estimated 32,000 people. To say he deserves a Nobel peace prize somehow seems a gross understatement. Perhaps we should leave that to Al Gore and global warming for now.

The cast and crew do an excellent job putting Dallaire's story [based on his written account, "Shake Hands With the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda"] on screen, with stand-out performances from French-Canadian Roy Dupuis (as Dallaire) and Rwandan actress/writer Odile Katesi Gakire (as Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana). All scenes were shot in Rwanda on the locations where the actual events took place, providing a haunting sense of reality.

The film offers unique insight into perhaps one of the most terrible events of recent history, but it is not light fare; expect to be moved by heroism as you are simultaneously beaten over the head with human ineptitude and cruelty. Certainly it is the type of film that might cause some to question whether it is really necessary for Western movie-goers to put themselves through such a version (albeit an attenuated one) of the suffering of others. Perhaps it is indeed worthwhile if sharing the burdens of history might somehow offer humanity a degree of vaccination against larger tragedy in the future.

Odile Katesi Gakire suggests that the sharing of these stories also has a subtle, but deeper significance, one that even the pessimist who believes human tragedy unavoidable would not deny:

"It is important to speak of what happened. There are so many histories which we (Rwandans) debate. There are no history classes in school, so it is important to have many points of view so that in the end we can find one common story. We all have a personal history and perhaps in the end we can come out with a national history."

"Shake Hands with The Devil" opened at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, and is now playing at the ByTowne Cinema here in Ottawa.


Bayman said...

A Guardian article gives a comprehensive overview of the tragic history of colonial meddling in Rwanda that led to the 1994 tragedy. Basically the Belgian government's last move before giving up political control of Rwanda/Burundi in 1962 was to incite 30 years of ethic civil war, a disaster that culminated in the 1994 genocide. Finally the country's balance of power has returned more or less to the way it was before European conquest, although undoubtedly the wounds of this disgustingly unnecessary war will not heal overnight. Hopefully the Western world will finally learn that the only people who should govern a country are the people who have to live in it, and that although enforcing "taxation without representation" might lead to different results in different places, it's always a very bad idea.