Filmmaker Barbet Schroeder starts his engrossing documentary with a written statement claiming that this is his view of Jacques Vergès and that the opinion of those interviewed may be different. He then proceeds to show an incredible fascination – bordering on love – for the lawyer who went to the Sorbonne with Pol Pot and defended demonised international figures such as Klaus Barbie and Magdalena Kopp of the Baader-Meinhoff gang. Taking a chronological approach, we are first introduced to Vergès as a brazen 30-year-old lawyer determined to make his name by defending Algerians charged with committing terrorist acts against the French. Archive footage is mixed with footage of Vergès sitting talking about his exploits, and from the get-go he comes across as arrogant and full of himself, a feeling that grows as the lawyer talks about defending Palestinians and his hatred for colonialists. In the 1970’s Vergès simply disappeared and Schroeder fails to get a full account or prove conclusively where the lawyer went, or why. The film gets more in-depth when exploring Vergès’ relationships with Kopp and Djamila Bouhired, the Algerian Nationalist involved in the Milk Bar bombing. Terror’s Advocate is a history lesson in modern insurgency and terrorism paranoia without ever being lecturing at any point. The conceited Vergès is always entertaining and clearly loves his own notoriety in this engrossing film which is all too clearly not the last that will be made about this fascinating individual.
GFT, Glasgow from Mon 2–Wed 4 Jun.