Thursday, May 21, 2020

A devastating history of Rohingya Muslims and Buddhist hatred in Barbet Schroeder's damning documentary, THE VENERABLE W


One of the great pleasures of watching a documentary by Barbet Schroeder -- this pleasure, by the way, comes much more from filmmaking prowess, rather than subject matter (which is usually grim) -- arrives via the manner in which Schroeder allows his subject to hang him/herself via his/her own words and deeds. Whether that subject be Idi Amin, Dr. "Penny" Patterson, Jacques Vergès or, as in THE VENERABLE W., an infamous Buddhist monk by the name of Ashin Wirathu, Schroeder never needs to stack the deck against his protagonists (antagonists?) because his subjects do that so very well on their own.

In addition to his hateful Buddhist monk, the filmmaker (shown at right) here tackles a still-timely subject to which there has so far been no real help: the torture, killing and deportation from Myanmar of the (predominantly Muslim) Rohingya population. Schroeder weaves into his film the history of both this monk and the campaign against the Rohingyas -- the latter of which began long before most of us in the western world had heard about it.

From the opening scene, in which our "venerable" W (irony is ever-present here, for those monks are often referred to as "venerables") compares Muslims to a particular breed of catfish, including in his speech some very nasty specifics, this “Monk” should have his robe confiscated -- and fast. Sure, he was in prison for a time, but that did not last nearly long enough.

If  you are as unfortunately naive as TrustMovies sometimes is, you may not have realized that could even be such as thing as Buddhist fundamentalists. Of course there are, and they are on full display in this documentary, using idiot logic and hypocrisy to both excuse and push their anti-Muslim agenda. Organize any religion -- Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist -- and some part of that organization will turn right-wing, nationalist and hateful in order to achieve power, along with its oh-so-religious goals. When W. tells us at one point, "I teach mostly children," you'll cringe all over again.

Along the way of course  you will note comparisons to a number of current dictators (or would-be dictators), from Duterte to Bolsonaro, Putin to Trump. Myanmar's military dictatorship has much to answer for, of course, but this vicious monk has an equal amount, so far as the destruction of Muslims is concerned. In addition to W, we hear from those who support him, as well as those -- both Burmese and outsiders working for change -- who do not.

When, from midway onward, we see actual footage of the killing of Muslims, the shock and horror are revolting. And yet where this dreadful hatred and murder has come from is all too clear. (There are monk militias here, for Christ's sake!) One problem with the documentary is that there is no identification of almost any of the speakers/interviewees. But if you hang on, a very good and thorough ID-ing occurs as the end credits roll.

As someone smart once told us, "religion is the opium of the people" (and if you see that quote in its full and longer context, you will also see that it is not nearly as negative as you've imagined), religion can also become a poison that can grip an entire population. From Distrib Films US, and distributed here via Icarus Films Home Video, The Venerable W. hit DVD this past Tuesday, May 19 -- for purchase and/or rental, too. 

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