“This is the director’s point of view on Jacques Vergès which may differ from the opinions of people interviewed in the film”. These words are to be found on screen at the start of this fascinating film about a man, who during his whole life as an advocate has defended and had connections to criminals like Barbie, RAF people, Carlos – and who is up to take the case of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge comrade Khieu Sampran.
Well, what the director’s view really is stays a bit unclear to me but what stands out is the focus on a charismatic adventurer Jacques Vergès, who sits behind his enormous desk, constantly with a wonderful cuban cigar in his hand, a man who has enjoyed a life as a star advocate with a very simple anti-american political agenda. This is declared from the very beginning with a clip of Pol Pot who quotes a book by Vergès. In this he describes Pol Pot, the mass murderer, as a smiling and gentle person. Cut from Pol Pot to Vergès who puts forward his doubts about the numbers of people killed by the regime of Pol Pot and says that what the Americans did was much worse. His words accompany the images from the killing fields in Cambodia.
Yes, in this sequence the point of view is clear.
Barbet Schroeder tells his story through an excellent mix of archive, interviews with a lot of people who have worked with or been friends with Vergès, and with some of the terrorists now out of prison. Like Magdalena Kopp, Rote Armee Fraktion, the lover of Carlos and Vergès?
For me, however, the most interesting part of this tour-de-force of pre-9/11 world terrorist history is the long early start of the film where French politics in Algiers is the subject. Vergès was involved in the fight for freedom for the Algerians and married the female hero of the fight, Djamila Bouhired, who is portrayed in the film “The battle of Algiers” by Pontecorvo. Clips from this film, great archive material and interviews revive the French massacres and the answers from Algerian side.
The film is more than two hours long but you feel informed, sometimes angered and admittedly entertained by this elegant mysterious character who gives you no more information than he wants to.
Barbet Schroeder: Terror’s Advocate. France, 2007
More about the festival: http://www.cphdox.dk/d1/front.lasso