Barbet Schroeder presents the final segment of his ‘Trilogy of Evil’ at Cannes.
The venerable W. (Original title: Le Vénérable W.)
The idea of filming a series of documentary works about evil, or more precisely, those who represent evil, human monsters, was the beginning of Barbet Schroeder’s Trilogy of Evil. After his first fictional films, mainly marked by his collaboration with Pink Floyd, the hippie heroin drama More (1969), he then directed a documentary about Uganda’s dictator, Idi Amin Dada, an overwhelming surprise for the public as well as for Schroeder. With Amin, the filmmaker discovered an uncomfortable truth: a general, who came to power by launching a military coup and then clinging to power by expelling or murdering hundreds of thousands of opposition members, including high-ranking intellectuals, scientists, politicians and respected community leaders, had a proclivity for humor and even showed childish and naive characteristics. In Schroeder’s General Idi Amin Dada – A Self Portrait (1974) the Ugandan dictator presented his simple, narcissistic personality almost without restriction.
Schroeder had never been in such close proximity with a coldblooded killer, and hadn’t imagined such a possibility before. Consequently, he decided to follow this path.
Terror’s Advocate (2007), the second part of his Trilogy of Evil depicts the controversial lawyer Jacques Vergès, who defended condemned key figures like Gestapo officer Klaus Barbie, Serbian President Slobodan Milošević and the terrorist Ilich Ramírez Sánchez (aka Carlos).
With the Vergès documentary, Schroeder applied the same purpose; not to condemn but to understand how these horrendous personalities are created and under what circumstances they become possible. Therefore, the term evil is misleading, because it refers to a metaphysical dimension, indicating a force and manipulation from an external source, which creates and manifests itself as evil.
A common expression. This concept and the term ‘evil’ is an intellectual disaster, because it separates a phenomenon from its social, political and psychological context, a context which produces, confirms and fortifies it. It prohibits examination and analysis and facilitates the declaration of a simple accusation. Calling Hitler for example the incarnation of evil is an effective rhetorical term to silence questions concerning his success and his movement which managed to turn a profit from his deeds. Unfortunately, for most media outlets, the term evil is still the most common expression used to produce a simple and false view of history, largely useful for the responsible parties involved.