Terror's Advocate

November, 2007, Documentary

Directed by:Barbet Schroeder


Director Barbet Schroder’s peripatetic childhood may explain his capacious output in film; born is Teheran to a Swiss geologist temporarily working there, Schroder spent his formative years living in various parts of Central Africa and Columbia before embarking on a career in the movies as a writer, actor, producer and director. His oeuvre includes documentaries, (Uganda’s Idi Amin, skid-row author Charles Bukowski) award winning dramas, (Reversal of Fortune, Our Lady of the Assassins) and conventional Hollywood thrillers, (Kiss of Death, Murder by Numbers). His personal life is equally unconventional; how many men successful in any career remain engaged to their future wives for over a quarter of a century before marrying them?

Schroder’s employs his status as a citizen of the world in this morbidly fascinating documentary in which he examines the life of French lawyer Jacques Verges. Born to a Vietnamese mother and a French father who hailed from an island off the coast of India, Verges fought with DeGaul’s Free French forces in World War II only to witness that country’s violent repression of native Algerians in their efforts to throw off colonial rule in the post-war period. Verges quickly became a clever and spirited defender of those advocates for Algerian independence who responded to France’s brutal suppression by employing the same frighteningly lethal methods so horrifyingly replicated in various European countries in the last decades of the 20th century and across so many parts of the world in the opening years of the 21st. The malignant spread of terrorism has never been presented with such compelling clarity. 

But what fascinates Schroder most is the manner in which Verges morphed his principled defense of violence in pursuit of genuinely legitimate causes into his willingness to defend some of the worst mass murderers of the last half century; from Cambodia’s Pol Pot, (whom Verges describes as “my good friend”) to Klaus Barbie, the infamous Butcher of Lyon, the Vergers client list has grown to include a deplorable collection of the most despicable human beings of the past 5 decades. Through extensive interviews with the 82 year old Verges, Schroder demonstrates the lawyer’s willingness to also become a courier linking terrorists from Germany’s Bader-Meinhof gang to Italy’s Red Brigades to Carlos, “The Jackal”, an international terrorist employed by various governmental factions in the Middle East. Terror’s Advocate stands as damning evidence of this smug attorney’s complicity in the actions of his clientele.

The director moves quickly through Algeria’s struggle for independence to a trail of subsequent terrorist activity which should remind U.S. audiences that the countries of Western Europe have had a much longer experience with terrorism than we’ve had in post 9/11 America. And amid the debris of it’s incomprehensible inhumanity can be found the handiwork of this apologist for ideologically-motivated devastation; surrounded by an extensive array of legal volumes in his comfortably appointed office, Verges responds to Schroder’s off-screen questions with a mixture of avuncular good humor and self-justifying evasiveness, presenting himself as a defender of individual freedom at constant war with the forces of governmental suppression. Glossing unctuously over questions of his clients’ lack of basic moral decency, Verges’ defense of his stable of A-list degenerates and his role in their atrocities stands horrifyingly at odds with Schroder’s well-chosen footage of the crimes they committed.

A decent grasp of history is essential for following the dark chapters in Verges career and it’s to Schroder’s credit that his patient research and diligent preparation make it possible for audiences to grasp the importance of coordinating the world’s efforts to protect itself against a malignancy which Verges justifies with such chilling offhandedness.

The verdict? A brilliant and challenging indictment of twisted legal perversion and human venality.     

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