A documentary on Jacques Vergès, the controversial lawyer and former Free French Forces guerrilla who has defending unpopular figures such as Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie and Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy.
An examination of the career of Jacques Vergès (1925- ), attorney for members of Algeria's FLN, Palestine's FPLP, the Khmer Rouge, Carlos and associates, Klaus Barbie, and other revolutionaries and outcasts. Archival footage, news articles, and photographs mix with contemporary interviews of Vergès, friends, associates, and historians. Connections with Nazis are explored, as well as Vergès's marriage to Djamila Bouhared, his courtroom methods, his disappearance from 1970 to 1978, and the roots of his radicalism. Throughout, Vergès remains playful and charming, with a soupçon of arrogance. The film suggests Vergès's anti-colonial nature is at his center. Written by
A fascinating documentary, even though it remains unclear where the director stands
In the movies lawyers have often been depicted as honest guys who try to do their best to defend their client, but also as vicious fellas who do the job just for money or fame, even if that implies having dangerous clients (the culmination of such a concept was Taylor Hackford's The Devil's Advocate). And somewhere in between we can put Jacques Vergès, the French attorney around whom Barbet Schroeder has constructed his new film, the documentary Terror's Advocate.
The title derives from the case that made Vergès famous at the beginning of his career: he was asked to defend a group of terrorists, responsible for a series of killings in Algeria. Of course, these men and women claimed to be freedom fighters, that what they did was the right thing to do. Vergès shared their ideals, managed to get them all out of jail and even married one of them. Subsequently he was always hired for controversial cases, and always ended up winning, even when his clients were former Nazis or Holocaust deniers.
The point of the movie is this: what should people think of Vergès? In fact, the opening caption says: "This film represents the director's personal point of view on Jacques Vergès", yet ironically Schroeder's opinion is not clear. While he seems to agree with the titular lawyer in the first half, saying that the Algerian terrorists had good intentions but used the wrong means (and it is hard not to think likewise, especially after seeing Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers, based on those events), he does not directly express his feelings on Vergès' supposed ties with numerous German terrorists, some of which were involved in the 1972 Olympic Games massacre in Munich.
As a consequence, the ambiguous attorney never really comes off as either good or bad: he does seem to have some kind of moral standards (when asked if he would have defended Hitler, he answers: "I'd even defend Bush, but he would have to plead guilty") and claims he has just been doing his job the whole time, but he refuses to comment on his alleged connections with German criminals, spreading no further light on the matter, nor does he reveal exactly what happened during his 12-year "disappearance", which he apparently spent in Paris for purposes unknown.
Nonetheless, it shows that Vergès has two essential qualities for a good lawyer: charisma and eloquence. And he knowingly uses those tools while being interviewed, providing valuable insight on a previously unseen side of the legal system and making Terror's Advocate an intriguing picture, although clearly not to everyone's taste.
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