Terror's Advocate

L'Avocat de la terreur

Year: 2007
Country: France
Running time: 135 mins

France
Photography: Caroline Champetier, Jean-Luc Perreard
Editor: Nelly Quettier
Music: Jorge Arriagada
In French with English subtitles
M violence

With: Jacques Vergès, Bachir Boumaza, Yacef Saadi, Djamila Bouhired, Maher Souleiman, Hans Joachim Klein, Neda Vidakovic, Magdalena Kopp

Festivals: Cannes (Un Certain Regard), Toronto, Vancouver 2007; Rotterdam 2008

Jacques Vergès is the epitome of the lawyer you love to hate. Barbet Schroeder has made a comprehensive portrait of the enigmatic lawyer who has defended some of the most repugnant mass killers - Klaus Barbie (known as "The Butcher of Lyon" during his Nazi years), Carlos the Jackal, Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein among them - modern times have known. Why does Vergès play this role? And what happened to him when he completely disappeared between 1970 and 1978? The baffling questions become doubly so once you learn that Vergès was both a Communist and an anti-colonialist in his younger days. The only thing that seems consistent about his politics now is a desire to urinate all over France's high opinion of itself as the bastion of freedom, equality and fraternity. The film is based around several interviews in which Vergès comes across as loftily amused by the effects of his own outrageousness - and  yet one can see how seduced he has been by the indefensible, people who have placed themselves way, way above the law. Fascinating. — BG