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Film review: Rwanda 'Journey' disturbing

SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL: THE JOURNEY OF ROMEO DALLAIRE — *** 1/2 — Documentary feature about the former UN commander who spearheaded peacekeeping efforts in Rwanda; in English and in French with English subtitles; rated (violence, profanity, gore, racial epithets, brief drugs).

Be warned up front that "Shake Hands With the Devil: The Journey of Romeo Dallaire" contains some shocking and disturbing footage taken during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which nearly a million men, women and children were killed by their fellow countrymen.

The documentary is effective, though at times it's a challenge to watch.

In fact, the footage — which includes machete attacks and gruesome images of bodies — almost makes the dramatic depictions in "Hotel Rwanda" seem tame. (Both films deal with some of the same material.)

However, the inclusion of those scenes here is not done for sensationalism but to reinforce just how horrifying the genocide was and to show what Dallaire — a retired Canadian Lieutenant General who worked with the United Nations — had to contend with.

"Shake Hands" was inspired by Dallaire's own accounts of the Rwandan massacres. Accompanied by his wife Elizabeth, as well as filmmaker Peter Raymont, Dallaire returned to Rwanda 10 years later. Hoping to put some ghosts to rest, Dallaire tours the country to see what has happened to the people since then. And throughout, Dallaire shares his frustrations about the seeming indifference by world leaders and UN officials at the time.

It's hard not to feel anger toward the Belgian officials who are shown trying to pin at least some of the blame for the slaughter on Dallaire. (Which is ridiculous when you consider that he was in charge of a force 450 men — hardly enough to combat thousands of armed Hutu rebels.)

Given that it's pretty much a one-sided piece, the film easily could have become unbearable. But Dallaire — who seems to have aged much more than 10 years — is a charismatic subject and has a commanding presence. (The character played by Nick Nolte in "Hotel Rwanda" was loosely based on Dallaire.)

"Shake Hands With the Devil: The Journey of Romeo Dallaire" is not rated but would probably receive an R for violent, often disturbing images of bloodshed and slaughter (including shootings and stabbings), gore, scattered use of strong profanity and racial epithets, and some brief drug content (references). Running time: 90 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com