Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire (2004)

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Released 7-Feb-2007

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Audio Commentary-Director Peter Raymont
Interviews-Crew-Director Peter Raymont
Featurette-Reading By Lt Gen Dallaire from his book: Shake Hands with t
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2004
Running Time 91:30 (Case: 90)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Peter Raymont
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Roméo Dallaire
Roméo Dallaire
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI ? Music Mark Korven


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

   

The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.

Josef Stalin

In March 1994, the Academy bestowed its Best Picture Oscar on the Holocaust epic Schindler's List. The message of that film and the acceptance speeches was simple. Genocide is unthinkable in the modern age and we must learn the lessons of the past to stop it ever happening again.

But before the Oscars champagne had lost its fizz the cycle of mass murder had begun again. Not only did the world not learn the lesson but the cries for help were ignored. In 100 days between April and July 1994 approximately 800,000 Rwandans died in horrifying circumstances; shot, beaten, sometimes hacked to death. Men, women and children were killed whilst the world refused to help. This documentary is the story of Ltn Gen Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian who headed the UN peace keeping force sent to Rwanda just before the genocide. His mission was an abject failure and Dallaire has wrestled with his demons ever since. The film follows him as he makes his first return trip to Rwanda some 10 years after.

Readers who saw the film Hotel Rwanda may remember Nick Nolte playing Dallaire as the struggling humanitarian with his hands tied. Nothing could be closer to the truth. The tragedy for Dallaire is that he is a man who cares deeply for people yet he could do nothing but sit back and watch the body count rise.

Dallaire was flown into Rwanda when relations between the majority Hutu's and the ruling minority Tutsi's were at a low point. Through an informant he learnt of plans by a radical Hutu group to ignore the recently struck peace accord and use a huge cache of weapons to begin the systematic annihilation of the Tutsis. He immediately sought clearance to conduct a raid and seize the weapons before the attacks began. The request was denied. He asked for a large contingent to control the situation. That request was also denied.

On April 6 2004 the President of Rwanda was killed when his plane was shot down. In the absence of any leadership the country descended into chaos with packs of machete wielding thugs killing every Tutsi they could find. Huge groups of people were herded into churches and other buildings and murdered one by one. The carnage was indescribable and it is no wonder Dallaire batted alcoholism and mental health issues when he left the country.

The title for the film comes from his book Shake Hands With The Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda and refers to a meeting with the leaders of one of the gangs who were carrying out the massacres. When he looked in their eyes he saw evil personified and it chilled him to the bones.

The documentary is a skilful blend of observational camera work (there is no narration) interweaved with footage from the 90's. The effect is powerful as we see Dallaire looking down a street where some horror took place and we then see the carnage first hand. It is as if we are privy to his flash backs and nightmares.

The documentary also features interviews with prominent journalists who were involved in reporting on the conflict as well as other members of the UN team and Dallaire's wife.

Blame is difficult to place in this complex world. Dallaire himself lays it squarely at the feet of the colonial Belgians for reinforcing the ethnic differences between the tribes and then abandoning the country when things got dangerous. There is truth in this belief but there must also be recognition of the ethnic rivalry which has endured for over 500 years.

At a gathering to commemorate the anniversary of the massacre Dallaire tells the assembled crowd of the real reason why the world failed to respond:
"Rwanda is black. It is in the middle of Africa. It has no strategic value. In the eyes of some there are too many of you."

The documentary is sorrowful and alternately searing. Some moments are difficult to watch such as when a legion of foreign troops swept in only to gather their citizens and leave. As they filed past the hopeless Tutsis one soldier says that they have to deal with their own problems. Fat chance. The large crowd were dead within hours of the soldiers leaving.

Dallaire mourns the possibility that even a small force could have quelled the massacres. Instead he was left with a minuscule 450 untrained men. At a Conference in Rwanda he is taken to task for abandoning a group of Belgian soldiers to their deaths. When he says that there was nothing he could do we believe him and yet Dallaire is still haunted by the memory.

We would like to think that more lessons have been learnt since Rwanda. However, the reality is that the hatred which fuelled the Rwandan Genocide spilled over into the Congo and Burundi leading to death and unrest at an unfathomable level.

Perhaps Stalin was right when he suggested that we are all more concerned with the one man than the millions.

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Transfer Quality

Video

   Shake Hands With the Devil is presented at its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. It is 16x9 enhanced.

The film was shot on digital and the image quality is commendable. The colours are bright and clear and the black levels are suitably deep. There are no defects in the image in the form of artefacts or noise. Flesh tones are accurate.

There is a marked contrast, of course, between the quality of the footage from 2004 and the news footage from 1994. That footage is beset with all the devils associated with filming on video in a war zone in 1994.

Rather than diminish the power of the film this increases the effect of the quick cuts between the two as it feels as though we are going into Dallaire's world - a world where bodies are everywhere.

The case says that there are English subtitles but in fact these are limited to moments when the various interviewees are speaking other languages.

All in all, the transfer is commendable.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

   The sound for the film is English Dolby Digital 5.1 running at 448 Kb/s.

Truth be told this is something of overkill for this film which is really a series of interviews and conversations. The dialogue is clear and where it is not there are subtitles. There are no problems with audio sync.

One of Dallaire's favourite pieces, Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings is used to great effect at the beginning, with the plaintive sound of the strings overdubbed with a reading of the names of some of the victims.

The music throughout is subtle but effective.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

The DVD contains three extras.

Audio Commentary with Director Peter Raymont

The commentary track by director Peter Raymont is a worthy listen. He takes us through the difficult process of filming a documentary as it happens. He tells of the times that Dallaire seemed close to breaking down as he revisited places where terrible things had happened. Raymont is a clever filmmaker and he relates the effort taken with his editor to weave the past into the present and at times pull back from the horror. One particularly poignant moment is where the camera lingers on a young boy. It looks like just another body in the street until he opens his eyes and stares at the camera. The effect is shocking as we know he will simply die alone.

Interview - Director Peter Raymont (7.52)

There is also an interview with Raymont in which he mourns the fact that the lessons of Rwanda are not being heeded. He talks about the concern he had during the filming not to drive Dallaire, who had previously attempted suicide, over the edge by forcing him to re-live the horrors. Instead, and despite the pain the journey appears to have been cathartic for the tortured humanitarian.

Featurette Dallaire Reading from his book - Shake Hands with the Devil: The failure of Humanity in Rwanda (5.42)

Dallaire reads two excerpts from his book Shake Hands With The Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda. The first is about the moment when the phrase is used in the book at the time that he met with the leaders of the Interahamwe, one of the groups who were carrying out the massacres. The second is towards the end of the book. Dallaire is not a natural reader but the story has enough power to make compelling listening. The video footage is of poor quality.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 DVD is practically identical although it contains an extra commentary track by Canadian movie critic Geoff Pevere. For all but the diehards the local release is satisfactory.

Summary

    This is an excellent documentary that is really about the struggle of a good man to reconcile his failure with his faith and his duty.

It is well filmed and the transfer quality is excellent throughout even where the source stock is poor.

The extras are also excellent.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DVR 630H-S, using Component output
DisplayPanasonic TH-50PV60A 50' Plasma. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX - SR603
SpeakersOnkyo 6.1 Surround

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