TORONTO (Reuters) - Director Kevin Macdonald has changed genres, characters and continents in back-to-back movies about villains of history, but the theme of men murdering their way through their careers remains the same.
Macdonald’s new documentary, “My Enemy’s Enemy,” looks at Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie, a brutal secret policeman, a U.S. anti-communism adviser in the Cold War, and a mentor to Latin American dictatorships.
Last year, in the feature “Last King of Scotland,” he took a fictional look at Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, with Forest Whittaker winning an Oscar for his role as the murderous monster who became the classic symbol of an African dictator.
An estimated 300,000 people died in Amin’s Uganda.
“The devil has the best souls,” Macdonald told Reuters as he explained the logic behind his two movies.
“But seriously, I don’t think there is any real rational reason that connects the two. I’m more interested in what this particular individual (Barbie) said about government complicity, and on what happens after war.”
“My Enemy’s Enemy,” which premiered at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, examines Barbie’s dubious career in occupied France, in post-war Germany and in Bolivia, where he lived freely and openly for years under an assumed name — that of the rabbi in his home town of Trier.
Dubbed the “Butcher of Lyon” and held responsible for the torture and murder of hundreds of civilians as the head of a section of the Lyon Gestapo, Barbie remained committed to the racist Nazi ideology throughout his life.
He was brought to justice only in 1987, more than 40 years after World War Two ended. He died in a French prison in 1991.
“You could be flippant and say it’s about how fascism won the war, because in order to combat communism, the free world had to use people like Barbie and use their ideology for their own ends,” Macdonald said in a phone interview from Los Angeles, where he is working on a political thriller about present-day Washington starring Brad Pitt.
“And so I think my point would be that in some ways that ideology has been reborn or resurfaced in recent years because of the (Iraq) war.”
Using contemporary film footage, and interviews with U.S. and Bolivian officials, “My Enemy’s Enemy” shows how the U.S. military’s Counter Intelligence Corps protected Barbie after World War Two in exchange for his services as a special agent against communism.
When it became clear that France might want to prosecute the Nazi for war crimes, the Americans helped him flee Germany for a new life in Bolivia, where he became an adviser to military leaders, possibly instructing them in the torture methods he learned in Lyon.
The movie, Macdonald said, focuses on the hypocrisy of nations and politicians.
“They always need people to do their dirty work for them, and yet they don’t actually want to face up to what they are doing themselves, they want to wash their hands,” he said.
“You go to Iraq or Afghanistan there are all sorts of people working in these sorts of places and a lot of them are foreigners and people who work for private enterprise, and in the same way as Barbie was. He is an entrepreneur of terror.”