Mark Danner

The Venerable W

Article for the Telluride Film Festival

Could the great German director Barbet Schroeder have dreamed, when he began what became his “Trilogy of Evil” more than four decades ago with a portrait of Idi Amin Dada, that he would find himself closing the series with the terrifying racist ravings of a Buddhist monk? After the Ugandan dictator, and the “terror lawyer” Jacques Verges, Schroeder plunges us into the paranoid and little-known world of Ashin Wirathu, a saffron-robed Burmese cleric who publicly demands, in terms both logical and eloquent, the extermination of the Burma’s Rohingya Muslim minority. Even after what we have seen in Bosnia and Iraq, the mob violence presented here – the burnings, the assassinations, the stormings of neighborhoods – is appalling and it becomes more shocking still as Schroeder gives us his vivid and terrifyingly intimate examination of the ideologist behind it. Amin is long gone, Verges mostly retired, but “the Venerable W.” the “Face of Buddhist Terror,” as Time dubbed him, is still among, still conjuring, in his reasonable voice, death and destruction from his devoted followers.