Peter Raymont’s Shake Hands With the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire extols the power of truth over fiction. In Hotel Rwanda, Nick Nolte’s Colonel Oliver was a stand-in for Canadian General Roméo Dallaire, who led a failed peacekeeping mission in Rwanda in 1994 when nearly one million men, women, and children—most of them Tutsis—were brutally slaughtered by their Hutu countrymen. Nolte played Dellaire as a scruffy teddy bear, with director Terry George failing to account for and chart the man’s complex moral predicament. Raymont’s documentary fixes that, showing Dallaire as a surprisingly soft-spoken man whose inability to get the world to pay attention to the horrors taking place in Rwanda have come to haunt him for more than 10 years.
The perfect visual study guide to go with Philip Gourevitch’s We regret to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families, Shake Hands With the Devil traces the origins of the discord between Hutu and Tutsi tribes to the specious Hamitic myth perpetuated by the first white colonists that came to the region, bravely indicting the Western community for not responding to the genocide sooner. But why Yugoslavia and not Rwanda? The answer is race and it’s one the documentary doesn’t skirt: With nothing to sell or nothing to buy, and O.J. Simpson trying to pull a fast one in California, it was very easy for the world to look to Yugoslavia and turn the other cheek to the black casualties in Rwanda, writing the Tutsis off as fallouts of an intractable tribalism. The film’s talking heads, from scholars to Dallaire, are fearless in their indictments, and Shake Hands With the Devil demands that we continue to address the implications of our ignorance.
How tragic that while most countries in the world have acknowledged their failure to address the genocide, they still couldn’t be bothered to send representatives to the country’s 10-year memorial last year. As one Rwandan person states, “We’ve come to expect nothing from the world, and they never disappoint us.” But it’s Dellaire’s naïve belief that he could make the world change that is the focus here, as is the failure of his body and spirit when he realized it was impossible to do so. What is Shake Hands With the Devil, then, but a startling document of a good man’s inability to do good? The documentary’s Christian allegories aren’t off-putting nor does Raymont use them to martyr Dellaire, but to illuminate the frustration and irony of his own spiritual frustration. With great clarity and insight, the director uses references to God, the devil, paradise on Earth, and the sky above to show how the genocide in Rwanda represents our collective failure to do good.