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Microfilms presents
Shake Hands With the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire (2004)

"I take pills just to stay reasonable."
- Lt. Gen. Roméo Dallaire, assessing his physical condition 10 years after the Rwandan genocide

Review By: Nate Meyers  
Published: March 16, 2005

Stars: RomŽo Dallaire
Other Stars: Gerald Caplan, Stephen Lewis, Michael Enright, Elizabeth Dallaire, Brent Beardsley, Bonaventure Niyibizi, Florence Kamili Kayiraba, FidŹle Bidari, Rosette Musale, James Orbinski, Philip Lancaster, Mark Doyle, Paul Kagame, Alain Destexhe, Ntaganira Damascene
Director: Peter Raymont

Manufacturer: assetdigital
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (graphic archival footage of mass murders and decaying corpses, language)
Run Time: 01h:31m:23s
Release Date: March 01, 2005
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A+A-B+ B+

DVD Review

I remember the O.J. Simpson trial fairly well, especially considering the fact that I was only 11 years old during most of it and tried to avoid the incessant news reports surrounding it. There was the issue of O.J. flying back from Chicago after the story broke of Nicole and Ron Goldman's being found murdered. That annoyingly slow white Bronco driving down the freeway ruined my evening viewing of a basketball game. I can give you the vivid details of my school day when the verdict came back as an acquittal. Christopher Darden. Mark Fuhrman. Robert Shapiro. Marcia Clarke. Johnny Cochran. F. Lee Bailey. Judge Ito. I can tell you plenty about all of them, and more. Yet, nowhere in my memory of 1994 can I recall even hearing of Rwanda and the horrific genocide that continued for 100 days, starting on April 6. Just thinking of that right now fills me with sorrow and anger.

Lt. Gen. Roméo Dallaire, a Canadian national, assumed command of the pitifully small UN force in Rwanda in late 1993. In this documentary, Shake Hands With the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire (based in part on his autobiographical retelling of his tour of duty there), Dallaire returns to Rwanda for the first time since his tour. It is in honor of the tenth anniversary of the genocide, which saw approximately 800,000 human lives viscously murdered by machete among other means, that the general is making this visit. Director Peter Raymont opens his documentary with Adagio for Strings (made famous by Oliver Stone's Platoon) playing as we see a close-up of Dallaire's face. Even before a single word is spoken, it is readily apparent in his eyes that this man is carrying demons with him that no one ought to have to bear—and they will likely haunt him for the rest of his life.

The structure of the documentary shifts gear from historical analysis of Rwanda under Belgian colonial control to the events of the atrocities to Dallaire's return visit. The running time is little more than 90 minutes, but those minutes are some of the most excruciating I've ever experienced watching a movie. The true accomplishment of Raymont's work is how it manages to convey these incomprehensible events by following the life of one man. Utilizing interviews from Dallaire's executive assistants, his wife, Stephen Lewis (UN envoy to Rwanda), Gerald Caplan (author), and Dallaire himself, the editing manages an enormous amount of information into a single cohesive story. The interviews provide excellent background information that allows those of us who aren't familiar with the intricacies of the Rwandan genocide to become very familiar with the conflict between the Hutus and Tutsis within just a few short minutes.

There are horrifying pieces of video showing the Hutus murder Tutsis, as well as many dead or nearly dead Tutsis lying along roadsides, which are likely to cause stomach churning. Even if someone is able to put a filter between them and that video, I can't imagine that viewing Dallaire's emotional response upon his return to Rwanda will leave anyone in the audience feeling muted. When he returns to the UN headquarters and is denied access until they can get their paperwork figured out, it just makes me wonder how we can expect the UN to be able to solve any real problems in the world. The documentary clearly takes sides with General Dallaire, showing him as a hero who tried valiantly to stop or at least minimize the mass murders but never received the proper support from the world's superpowers—including our very own United States. I can't pretend to know if these institutions are getting a completely fair shake from this documentary. After all, even if the world's powers had sent troops and prevented the genocide in 1994 that doesn't mean that the Hutus would not have perpetrated their crimes at a later date in time. However, when a UN envoy clearly states that President Clinton is lying when he makes statements that he did not know the full extent of the events in Rwanda, it does make me take pause.

The material director Raymont is working with is so incredibly strong that, truly, the only flaws can come from his handling of it. For the most part, he treats the subject with credible reverence and impeccable skill. Some parts that struck me were when Dallaire reunites with the Tutsi rebel leader, Paul Kagame, who is currently the president of Rwanda. Another fascinating portion of the documentary centers on a Belgian senator, Alain Destexhe, who accuses Dallaire in a press conference of being responsible for the death of 10 Belgian UN soldiers. Yet, there are times in which Raymont is too heavy-handed in his storytelling. When Dallaire revisits the morgue where he first saw the 10 Belgian soldiers, he needlessly cuts to an interview with Dallaire to explain the events unfolding on the screen. It might have been more effective if he had simply held on Dallaire's expressions at the actual location than to have the man spell out and rationalize what occured there. Additionally, Raymont clearly feels outraged at how the world failed to help the people of Rwanda. Who wouldn't? But it's useless to have repeated sound bytes of people explaining how this should outrage us. The audience will feel the outrage merely by watching his vivid documentary.

The inevitable comparison that will be made between Shake Hands With the Devil is with the very affecting Hotel Rwanda (in which Dallaire is portrayed by Nick Nolte). I highly recommend that everyone see both that film and this documentary, since both depict an important event at the closing of last century. Both give vivid portraits of two very different heroes that emerged from those tragic 100 days and will hopefully help in educating people about this so that we can work towards a day in which such things will never happen.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen, this transfer is an accurate presentation of the documentary's video source material. Shot using high definition video, the overall image is very mechanical and flat. Some of the footage is from older video shot during the actual genocide, which thus makes some scenes look drastically worse than the new material. Low light levels result in a lot of grain, but it's all fitting with the subject matter. Any complaints about the image should be directed towards the source material, not the transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix actually is a relatively active one, considering the content. Sound separation and directionality do occur, though not enough to distract from the words being spoken (which is the most important part of the mix). Music comes through very clearly in the surround speakers and the whole system opens up nicely for an engrossing listen. There's also an English Dolby Stereo 2.0 mix available.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Horns and Halos, Family, The Cola Conquest, Stone Reader, Stupidity
1 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Geoff Pevere, Peter Raymont
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:22m:22s

Extra Extras:
  1. Insert—contains the director's statement and copies of official documents surrounding the genocide.
  2. French Version—a shorter version of the documentary, presented in French for French Canadians.
  3. General Dallaire Excerpt Book Reading—a video of Dallaire reading an excerpt from his book.
  4. Photo Gallery—a slideshow of still photographs with commentary by photographer Peter Bregg.
  5. Reading List—a list of books and films covering the Rwandan Genocide.
Extras Review: Considering that this film has only played at a couple of festivals, this DVD is packed with an extraordinary amount of extras. First is an insert containing director Peter Raymont's statement about his relationship with Lt. Gen. Dallaire and his involvement in Rwanda. The insert also contains a photocopy of Dallaire's fax to the UN in New York, in reference to the threat of a massive killing by the Hutu group, the Interhamwe. Following that is the response fax from the UN, instructing Dallaire on how to remain isolated from any potential conflict. Finally, the insert also has the UN's Genocide Convention, which lays out the definition of genocide and what courses of action are to be taken when it occurs. Reading these documents sent a chill down my spine when combining them with how the superpowers did nothing in Rwanda.

There are several special features on the disc itself, beginning with two audio commentaries. The first, by director Raymont, is a highly informational listen about the making of the documentary, as well as the director's relationship with Dallaire. He gives some additional information about the genocide and Dallaire that is not included in the documentary, so this is definitely worth a listen. The second commentary, by Toronto Star film critic Geoff Pevere, is more of an appreciation than an actual commentary. He rambles on and stutters an awful lot, making his mostly cerebral commentary somewhat dull and even pompous at times. He gives some interesting insights, but mostly it's just a collection of his own opinions.

Also included on this DVD is a French version of the documentary in 1.85:1 nonanamorphic widescreen, with Dolby Stereo sound. There are no subtitles for this version (or the English version, for that matter). It runs roughly 40 minutes shorter than the original version, tapping out at 51m:59s.

There is also a brief featurette, Reel to Real (07m:50s), which features director Raymont in an interview. Most of what is discussed here is not repeated from the commentary, but it also is more about Raymont's views of the politics surrounding Rwanda than about the actual documentary. Nonetheless, it has some interesting pieces of information about the documentary interspersed. There also is a video of General Dallaire reading an excerpt from his book (05m:40s) to an audience that has awarded him a prize. The content of the passage here concerns his meeting the Interhamwe, which is discussed also in the documentary.

Following this is a photo gallery that can be played as a slideshow with the audio commentary of photographer Peter Bregg (21m:40s). The images are mostly reminiscent of scenes from the documentary, but Bregg gives a significant amount of detail about their context that is not covered in the finished product. Each picture can also be viewed individually. There also is a reading list, consisting of different books and films that depict the Rwandan genocide.

Finally, four trailers for other documentaries from Microfilm round out the extras: Horns and Halos, Family, The Cola Conquest, Stone Reader, and Stupidity each are shown in widescreen (Horns and Halos is anamorphic). The trailers represent a more traditional set of extras for this kind of release, but the other supplementals are above the normal content.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Shake Hands With the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire is an important and stunning documentary from Microfilms. It is only available in the US through www.microfilmsinc.com, but I highly recommend that people buy this DVD.


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