Terror's Advocate (12A)
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Tue May 13 2008Back in 1974, Barbet Schroeder made a documentary on Idi Amin that prompted the Ugandan leader to place scores of French citizens in Kampala under house arrest until he made cuts to the film. What’s curious is that Schroeder had initially made the documentary in close collaboration with Amin, even subtitling it a ‘self-portrait’ in a nod to the Ugandan’s self-conscious embrace of the project.
There’s a similar dynamic at play in this exploration of the career of Jacques Vergés, a French-Vietnamese lawyer, now 83, who first came to attention working as an advocate for the FLN during Algeria’s war of independence. He has since defended Klaus Barbie and Slobodan Milosevic and made a name for himself as a defender of the ‘indefensible’. Key to the film are a new interview with Vergés and ample archive footage.
It’s hard to gauge exactly what Schroeder thinks of Vergès, who registers as a charming subject driven by a mix of rabid anti-colonialism, a belief in everyone’s right to defence, and a solid desire for celebrity and success. What’s clear is that these instincts could make for a corrupting cocktail in a lawyer, even if Schroeder never points the finger squarely at Vergés and says so. However,what the film does suggest is how admirable independent action in a colonial age can warp into something more sinister in a different, later context. Schroeder explores Vergés’s murky links in the late 1970s and 1980s with Nazi financier François Genoud, who paid for the defence of ‘Carlos the Jackal’ and Barbie. He doesn’t offer simple judgements – Schroeder’s polite, sly approach is to present all the evidence and let us be jury.
Author: Dave Calhoun
Fri May 16, 2008