The Rwandan Genocide will always be remembered as one of the biggest human rights failures in the history of men. A country was divided, innocent people were viciously and systematically murdered, people lost family, and soldiers stood by and did absolutely nothing. In Hotel Rwanda, Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) struggles with housing hundreds of Tutsi refugees with the Interhamwe Army breathing down his neck, all whilst doing everything he can to protect his family. On the other side of the spectrum is Shake Hands With The Devil, is a grim recollection of Romeo Dallaire (Roy Dupuis), the U.N. officer in charge of UNAMIR, who struggles through being the bystander during the genocide. While they may be from two completely different cultures, and completely opposite from the other, this traumatizing event still impacted both of them heavily. Both films are strong in the portrayal of the genocide; they just portray it in two different ways. In Hotel Rwanda, the viewer gets a more personal point of view, through the eyes of a Rwandan citizen, a family man. In Shake Hands With The Devil, the viewer gets a much more informative point of view, one you didn’t get with Hotel Rwanda, because it effectively portrays that sense of abandonment by the superpowers involved in the conflict, which further emphasizes the realism and the consequences because of these actions. Personally, I liked that watching the two different perspectives, because it allowed me to see that whatever side of the conflict you were on, you were damaged by it in some way. In regards to which one I preferred, I would have to say that Hotel Rwanda was the more impactful film. It might have been the production, but something about how heart-wrenching and personal it felt made me able to connect to it better. There were times in the film where my heart stopped in fear for the family, and that emotional connection allowed me to comprehend the whole tragedy in a better light.
Both films effectively portray the genocide in their own ways; one is more the fear and danger of being a part of the victim caste, and the other is the emotional anguish of being a bystander to such a terrible crime. In Hotel Rwanda, the personal connection that the audience makes with the protagonists is the stepping stone to understanding the realness of the dangers of the genocide. There are many heart-stopping moments in the film where the Rusesabagina family is in danger, and the audience wants them to survive so badly. When Paul has to negotiate with the Interhamwe soldiers for the freedom of his family, you have no idea how he is going to be able to give them enough money to free his entire group. Thankfully he does, and the viewer is able to see the difficult situations people were put in; a lot of people were force to trade money and valuable for the lives of their loved ones. There is also the times where Paul is looking for Tatiana and his kids, and he believes they have jumped off of the hotel, only to realize it is another family in hiding. The emotion behind after all Paul had been through, for him to lose his family at that point would’ve been devastating. In Shake Hands With The Devil, the genocide is seen as more of a political issue, rather than a personal issue. It is more about parlaying information to the audience, rather than triggering emotion (although, it does do that). Shake Hands With The Devil goes in depth with Dallaire’s detail, his dealings with high-up officers in the different factions fighting the civil war, like when he met with the Interhamwe leaders, General Bizimingu, and later with General Kagame. It also shows his relations with other U.N. officers, from countries like Belgium and Bangladesh. But, it also does show the emotional terror that not only Rwandans dealt with, but the horrors the U.N. soldiers (especially Dallaire) experienced. The scene where the woman slips on a pool of blood seems to keep replaying in Dallaire’s head. The concept of that situation ever coming to be is haunting Dallaire, and the audience can clearly tell he is troubled. There is also a brief scene where Dallaire is cutting his upper legs to relieve the pain of his experiences. Overall, I think Shake Hands With The Devil was able to portray the genocide better, as it was able to include both factual and emotional elements in to it.
Personally, I think that viewing two different perspectives of the genocide was key in fully understanding the events as a whole. In Hotel Rwanda, as mentioned earlier, you get the personal element to it. But there are definitely minor things within that give more detail to what it was like during the genocide. In Hotel Rwanda, there was more of an idea of what it was like daily for the hotel and it’s refugees. Food was very sparse for the majority of their hiding; Paul had to pull some big favours to ensure that everyone was fed. His wife, Tatiana, was in constant fear throughout their hiding, and she can be used as sort of a generalization for what it was like for most Tutsi families, as they were dealing with the idea of constantly being hunted by the Interhamwe. Speaking of the Interhamwe, they were metaphorically constantly knocking on the door of the hotel, trying to get at the refugees any way possible. Hotel Rwanda gave a picture of what it was like to be a refugee during the time. As for Shake Hands With The Devil, it gave good insight to the politics of the genocide. The big thing was that Dallaire was constantly pleading with the super powers, like the United States, to help in Rwanda as they were helping in the Balkans. It showed how the Belgians weren’t backing Dallaire either, and later how they were only in Rwanda to extract the Belgian expatriates. There were also the relations between Dallaire and the leaders of the different sides in the conflict. Between the two films, there were a lot of scenes that depicted general treatment of Rwandan people in more rural areas. There were parts in both films where soldiers were executing innocent people, or scenes where dead bodies were strewn throughout, and those scenes really emphasized how grand of an event this was.
Both films were absolutely excellent; they were well casted, well scripted, and they both delivered a powerful message about the genocide. However, if I had to choose which of the two films I preferred, I would have to choose Hotel Rwanda. I preferred it to Shake Hands With The Devil for two reasons; firstly, the overall production and filming made the film a lot more engaging. Secondly, Hotel Rwanda was much more relatable to, meaning I got more out of the film because I was more intrigued in it. Hotel Rwanda was a Hollywood film, and it showed through the atmosphere, the music, and the acting. Don Cheadle played the performance of a lifetime, portraying a real underdog and winning the hearts of the audience. There was a greater intensity in hotel Rwanda, it seems very blockbuster-like, compared to Shake Hands With The Devil. The personal levels that were reached in Hotel Rwanda also gave it a slight edge, as I felt closer to the scared, fighting-for-their-lives family than the PTSD-afflicted General. I just felt more emotion for things like Paul leaving his family to stay with the hotel, over things like Dallaire peering through the church with hundreds of corpses in it.
Both Hotel Rwanda and Shake Hands With The Devil both captured the essence of what was one of the greatest failures in human history. While I personally preferred Hotel Rwanda for it’s heart-wrenching plot, Shake Hands With The Devil gave much better factual information in to the genocide, which was useful for someone who didn’t know too much about it. In the end, they both did it in their unique ways, with each film bringing something different yet important to the table, and watching them together gave a clear picture into the genocide as a whole.
Hotel Rwanda: 4.5/5
Shake Hands With The Devil: 4/5