Terror's Advocate Barbet Schroeder

Terror's Advocate Barbet Schroeder

It’s not every man who can claim a ringing endorsement from Pol Pot himself, but Jacques Vérges is just that special. In a bizarre and lengthy legal career, he’s made it his business to defend the indefensible: Klaus Barbie, Slobodan Milosevic, Carlos the Jackal, members of the RAF, and various other dictators, Holocaust deniers and terrorists make up his client list.

The personal journey from Free French Forces fighter to apologist for Nazi war criminals proves so bizarre and appalling that no Hollywood fiction could ever possibly compete with its strangeness. Vergés proved himself early on as an advocate for the Algerian revolution, brilliantly spinning the show trial of terrorist radicals into worldwide sympathy for the cause. But though his achievement there is unassailable, he then married and abandoned the movement’s figurehead, disappeared for ten years and emerged as a man who apparently lived vicariously through the conscienceless adventuring of Baader-Meinhof and their fellow travellers.

It’s a long and winding road that can’t possibly be encapsulated here but it is guaranteed to keep you riveted through its parade of talking heads. And what talking heads: various clients, including the voice of Carlos and a rogue’s gallery of dodgy types, come forward to tell Vérges story, as well as reveal how banal terrorism can become when you do it long enough. The subject, all too pleased with himself, offers all manner of pseudo-left justifications for his actions, but he seems to neither know the game he’s playing at nor particularly care.

Some claim that director Barbet Schroeder doesn’t ask any tough questions, but I can’t imagine what would stick to this guy: his ability to disappear into a moral fiction makes him a cautionary figure for all those who might run their own agendas on specious political grounds. (Mongrel Media)