Posted at 1:02 PM on November 23, 2007
by Euan Kerr
Jacques Verges is a man people love to hate. Not only does he defend terrorists in court, he defends the worst of the worst.
He went to college with Pol Pot, and hung out with him in the last years of his life.
He defended Carlos the Jackal, a man that even other terrorists think is psycho. He defended Klaus Barbie, the former Nazi known as 'the Butcher of Lyon.' He's also Slobodan Milosovic's lawyer. He's represented a host of people all over world who are accused of doing indefensible acts.
And you know what? He seems like a pretty reasonable guy.
Verges is the subject of Barbet Schroeder's documentary "Terror's Advocate" which opens this weekend at the Oak Street in Minneapolis. It's thought-provoking stuff.
Schroeder opens the film with a disclaimer, saying it's his view of Verges, and he knows other people have a different opinion.
The movie takes the idea that one person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter, exploring how Verges developed ideologically and how he put his methods of turning a trial of a terrorist suspect on it's ear by putting the dominant society itself on trial.
Verges is an eloquent man, who has come into contact with some of the world's most hated individuals. He has alienated his family and friends at times. although they always seem to defend him.
The length of Verges career becomes Schroeder's biggest challenge. He struggles sometimes trying to move from case to case and to keep straight all the stories he is telling and the important differences between the characters. It helps if you have more than a passing knowledge of the Algerian and Palestinian conflicts and the bombing and hijacking campaigns associated with both. Otherwise the film may become confusing.
Jacques Verges has a very different worldview from most Americans and Schroeder introduces us to it. This film won't win him any converts, but it may gain him some understanding.
Barbet Schroeder is a male French director born in 1941 in Iran to a German-born physician mother and a Swiss geologist father who came into filmmaking during the French New Wave of the early 1960s. He grew up much of his youth in Central Africa and Columbia before settling in Paris.
Barbet's first film as a director was MORE (1969) on the subject of heroin addiction but he later directed a number of large budget American films BARFLY (1987) with Mickey Rourke based on the alcoholic poet Charles Bukowski (the first of many Bukowski bio-films); KISS OF DEATH (1995) another thriller with Nicholas Gage and Samuel Jackson; SINGLE WHITE FEMALE (1992) a New York thriller starring Bridget Fonda; and notably REVERSAL OF FORTUNE (1990) that won an Oscar for Jeremy Iron's for his depiction of the films subject Claus Von Bulow.
Barbet is well known for his 25 year engagement with French New Wave star and working theater actress Bulle Ogier (mother of the late film star Pascale Ogier) until he finally married Bulle in 2000. I first met Barbet in Los Angeles in 1984 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and despite his cross over success from a French director to director of big-budget American films, he remained interested in making smaller films that challenge educated art-house audiences and clearly TERROR'S ADVOCATE is one of those kinds of films that allows us to look at the world with all its complexity and not simple black and white dichotomies.
Thanks for the correction Robb, and the additional information!