Shake Hands with the Devil is an account of Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire and his experiences during the 1994 Rwandan genocide when his pleas for aid went ignored by the United Nations. It’s a familiar story, having made headlines and been the subject of Dallaire’s autobiography and the Oscar winning film Hotel Rwanda.
Shot on location where the atrocities actually took place, Shake Hands with the Devil is a no-holds-barred retelling of Dallaire’s heart wrenching story. French Canadian actor Roy Dupuis plays the general as a publicly stoic man trying desperately in private to hang on to his sanity. Driven to the brink by the violence around him, Dallaire is seen cutting himself with razors to distract himself from the painful truth that he was unable to do anything to stop the carnage that surrounds him.
It’s powerful stuff that doesn’t pull any punches. At the center of the film is Genie Award nominee Dupuis who at first seems stiff, wooden even, in his portrayal of the general, but as the film progresses the inner life of the character starts to seep through his austere façade. It’s a performance that exists almost totally in the actor’s eyes, and in this case we really do begin to believe that these are eyes that have witnessed too much suffering.
Director Roger Spottiswoode handles the material with an even hand, presenting the facts of the case in a straightforward—although sometimes graphic—manner. He doesn’t pander to the audience or try and manipulate them to feel a certain way. This is one story that needs no embellishment to wring emotion from the audience.
Shake Hands with the Devil may not be for everyone, but it is a powerful portrait of a man who stayed in Rwanda to “bear witness to that which the world does not want to see.”