‘The Venerable W.’ Review: A Buddhist Monk Preaches Hate | Modern Society of USA

‘The Venerable W.’ Review: A Buddhist Monk Preaches Hate

‘The Venerable W.’ Review: A Buddhist Monk Preaches Hate

This film completes what its director, Barbet Schroeder, calls a “trilogy of evil.” The subject of the first documentary in this informal series, the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin Dada, was such an enthusiastic participant in the project that the 1976 result wound up being titled “General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait.”

This set a template for what followed. In 2007’s “Terror’s Advocate,” about the slick, serpentine, self-aggrandizing lawyer Jacques Vergès (whose client roster included Klaus Barbie, Carlos the Jackal and perhaps even Pol Pot) and in this picture, “The Venerable W.,” about Ashin Wirathu, a Buddhist monk in Myanmar fomenting racial hatred and violence against that country’s Muslim population, Schroeder lets the men sitting for these portraits have their own heads, so to speak.

In both his fiction and documentary work, Schroeder has long illuminated dark corners of human behavior. His best known American-made film is “Reversal of Fortune,” a fictionalized drama about Claus von Bulow and his own slick lawyer, Alan Dershowitz. “The Venerable W.” begins by digging a little into the contradiction of Buddhist hate-mongering. An offscreen Maria de Medeiros, embodying, according to the end credits, a “small Buddhist voice,” explains that the Buddha is human, not a god, then states “The Buddha is often above good and evil, but his words should help us limit the mechanics of evil.”

Wirathu, now 50, became aligned with Myanmar’s nationalist 969 movement in 2001 and has founded, since that movement was banned, a similarly anti-Muslim organization. His brief is that Myanmar’s Muslim population (which he refuses to refer to as Rohingya, which is how the stateless people refer to themselves) represents a mechanics of evil. To Schroeder’s camera and in public preaching, he pursues this theme with relentless insistence while denying he condones violence. But the words he preaches to his followers go well beyond implication. And the violence he inspires, shown in this film in footage culled from phone videos and other immediate media sources, is horrific.

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