Some Light Weekend Holocaust Denial
As a film reviewer, especially one who uses cinema criticism to cloak experimentation in shock humor and self-indulgence, you often run into films that are problematic. A film you hate or a film you love is easy to review, but what's to be done with a film that just lies there, unmoving, like a hooker with a broken neck in a rented Motel 6 room? Sure, it’s an easy target for all manner of exploitation, but it’s just as easy to walk away from. And what of films that you just have nothing to say about? These endlessly repetitive jokes about internet pornography and racial stereotyping don’t write themselves, you know. They have to be coaxed out of the dark, fetid places they reside by a particular incensing movie. Shake Hands With The Devil is one of these difficult films to review, plus it’s about the Rwandan genocide, which makes it especially hard to crack wise about. Genocides in general are tricky, especially if they’re recent. Films like Schindler’s List, on the other hand, are easy. Just write a glowing review about the tear-jerking tragedy and powerful emotional center, then finish it off by stating that the film is far and away Speilberg’s best science fiction film. Afterwards, listen carefully for the ten people you made laugh amid the frenzied typing of 200 hate emails. But something like the Rwandan genocide, you have to tread carefully around. I don’t say this out of fear of being insensitive, but rather the very real threat of having my arms and legs hacked off by a rightfully livid Tutsi for making fun of his dead family. So, instead, I’ll focus on the one thing in this documentary that is inherently amusing, in a sad sort of way, which is that it deals with a massive and abominable slaughter of Africans through the eyes of a rich French Canadian in a fortified compound.
I suppose the deaths of 900 000 Hutus at the hands of machete wielding militants is only striking when it’s seen through the perspective of General Romeo Dallaire, who spend the majority of the massacre writing angrily worded letters and bitching about Belgium while head of a UN Peacekeeping mission. After all, as we’ve learned from The Constant Gardener, only white people can save Africa from itself. I’m sure it was very heart-wrenching for Dallaire to have to watch all those people dying before his very eyes, but I’m not sure if his subsequent depression and anxiety is worthy of all this screen-time. I felt particularly scarred after watching an internet clip of a guy screwing up a base jump on Ebaum’s world, but I would hesitate before writing a book about my experiences, partially because anything I write inevitable devolves into tangential references to Hollow Earth Theory and the Thule Society, but mostly because it would be unfair to the poor fellow whose teeth came out of his head like he was throwing up three meals worth of blood and Tic Tacs. Hell, if Shake Hands With The Devil catches on, we might as well brace ourselves for a ABC movie-of-the-week about the tragic repercussions of watching Hurricane Katrina coverage, or perhaps Blinded By Booby: Superbowl XXXVIII and The Moral Decline of America.
Shake Hands With The Devil is well-made, coming off like an episode of The Passionate Eye crossed with Faces of Death, though, as it’s based on Dallaire’s book, it’s clearly his story. And his story is uninteresting. The genocide is a terrifying story, as is the UN’s refusal to involve itself until the situation was well out of hand, but Dallaire’s complaining isn’t. In fact, it’s insulting, like being told the history of the Holocaust by Hitler’s aesthetician. It’s not that Dallaire wasn’t a hero. He was, I suppose, and he did all he could and then some, but his story is not important. I want to learn about how such genocides can be prevented, not that if you watch people die you might get so depressed you fall back on a generous pension and several book deals. I'm sure he feels bad, but I can think of about 900 000 people who feel a whole lot worse. The last third of the film disregards the genocide and civil war altogether, focusing instead on Dallaire’s descent into depression, as evidence by his being arrested for public drunkenness after passing out on a park bench. If that’s a cry for help, then my entire graduating class must have been pretty suicidal after prom. While the events in Rwanda in 1994 are a terrifying and fascinating tale, Dallaire’s self-aggrandizing viewpoint is not, which is what ultimately sinks this film. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to work the script for my latest project, I Watched Two Police Officers Scrape A Dead Asian Guy Out Of An Elevator Shaft On The Internet , And Now I Can’t Eat Chinese Food Without Indigestion: The Ash Karreau Story.