“Communist, anti-colonialist, right-wing extremist? What convictions guide the moral mind of Jacques Vergès?” These two questions, posed by the official site and press notes for Barbet Schroder’s Terror’s Advocate, are pertinent but never addressed by the film. It seems almost criminal that Schroder’s last documentary, Koko: A Talking Gorilla, 85 minutes long and shot largely within the confines of a gorilla’s zoo habitat, is less cagey than this epic-length checklist of all the terrorists the controversial Vergès has represented since the Algerian war. A pie chart is practically necessary to endure this brutal litany of talking heads, among them Magdalena Kopp, Carlos (“The Jackal”), Anis Naccache, and Hans Joachim Klein, who is very open to interviews for someone living in hiding (he also appears in the upcoming, equally dubious Protagonist, directed by Jessica Yu). Shroeder’s interviewees—the terrorists, at least—reveal plenty about their crimes and relationships to one another but little about Vergès aside from where he may or may not have been (Cambodia hanging out with Pol Pot? The Middle East?) when he disappeared off the face of the earth between 1970 and 1978. The experts Shroeder sits with mostly fill in any remaining gaps, though one mercifully risks more when he suggests that Vergès’s romantic involvement with some of his female clients—including the famous anti-French Algerian guerilla Djamila Bouhired, with whom he fathered two children—points to a fetishistic relationship to terror. Vergès himself is almost of no use, which is not to say he is difficult. In the film’s most refreshing bit, he openly states that his decision to represent Nazi lieutenant Klaus Barbie was an opportunity for him to simultaneously put France’s war crimes in Algeria on trial, but Schroeder shows little interest in getting to the root of this rapscallion’s political convictions, simply asking Vergès to corroborate everyone else’s biographical observations of the man’s life. Scarcely an exposé, Terror’s Advocate is more plainly a portrait of a man as a timeline.
- Magnolia Pictures
- 135 min
- Barbet Schroeder
- Jacques Vergès, Abderrahmane Benhamida, Bachir Boumaâza, Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, Lionel Duroy, Hans-Joachim Klein, Magdalena Kopp, Gilles Ménage, Anis Naccache, Siné, Martine Tigrane
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