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Terror's Advocate

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Barbet Schroeder takes us down history's darkest paths in his attempt to illuminate the mystery behind an enigmatic figure, Jacques Vergès.

At the height of an illustrious career, Vergès disappeared without trace for eight years. When he returned, Vergès defended unpopular figures from all political fronts and monsters like Nazi criminal Klaus Barbie and Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy.


In a free society, even the baddest of the bad are entitled to their day in court. Just ask French attorney Jacques Verges, the central figure in director Barbet Schroeder's Terror's Advocate and a fellow who has befriended and defended, with varying degrees of success, a lengthy list of terrorist bombers, serial killers, mass murderers, dictators, Nazis, and other villains. Born in 1925 in Thailand, the offspring of a French father and Vietnamese mother, he came to prominence in mid-1950s Algeria, when he agreed to represent accused bomber and anti-French militant Djamila Bouhired (after helping to get her death sentence repealed, Verges married her). Verges' style and tactics were established early on; viewed by his own government as a mercenary, traitor, and provocateur, he specialized in what he called the "rupture defense," in which he and his associates essentially refused to participate in the court proceedings. His clientele since then has included some of the most notorious scoundrels in 20th Century human history, among them Nazi war criminal Klaus "Butcher of Lyon" Barbie, the leftist revolutionary known as "Carlos the Jackal," Serbian dictator Slobodan Milošević, and an array of Palestinian hijackers and "freedom fighters," Islamic terrorists, African dictators, and so on. The Verges interviewed extensively in Schroeder's documentary is a smug, cigar-smoking, and utterly unapologetic man; as passionately as he may believe in the causes he's espoused, and there's little doubt of that, he's clearly quite comfortable with the notoriety, too. As for the documentary itself, what could have been fairly riveting at, say, 90 minutes is laborious, if edifying, at 137. Schroeder (whose previous credits include the likes of Reversal of Fortune and Barfly) uses considerable file footage to provide background and context for Verges' various cases, but with much of the running time occupied by static interviews with long-winded talking heads, Terror's Advocate too often makes your average PBS doc look like an episode of 24. --Sam Graham

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Claude Moniquet, Jacques Verges, Jean-Paul Dolle, Maher Souleiman, Patricia Tourancheau
  • Directors: Barbet Schroeder
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: French
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: Magnolia Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: February 19, 2008
  • Run Time: 137 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #116,617 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Terror's Advocate" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
"Terror's Advocate" opens with the statement that the film presents director Barbet Schroeder's view of Jacques Vergès, but after 2 hours and 17 minutes documenting 5 decades of the controversial defense lawyer's career, I wish I knew what the director has to say about it. Jacques Verges is a Frenchman born in Thailand to a Vietnamese mother and a father from the Reunion Islands. Born under the yoke of French colonialism, or so he perceived, Verges became a communist and a proponent of all things anti-colonial, defending FLN bombers in Algeria and PFLP militants in Europe, before going on to cases altogether more mercenary, such as the defense of extortionist terrorist "Carlos" and "Butcher of Lyon" Klaus Barbie.

Verges, himself, is interviewed extensively for this film, sitting behind a desk in what looks like a luxurious home office, smugly puffing on a cigar. He doesn't make a convincing Marxist. He makes a better hedonist. But he tells us about his background, some of the cases he worked on, the people he met, always careful to cast his actions in the light of anti-colonialism and Western hypocrisy. Verges' associates are also interviewed, including many former terrorists, journalists, historians, and even an ex-Stasi agent. From these interviews, the film pieces together Verges' role in defending FLN bombers, including Djamila Bouhired, whom he later married, PFLP bombers, and his defense of Red Army Faction militants.

One problem with "Terror's Advocate" is that it spends most of its time explaining the "terrorist" or "revolutionary" organizations whose members Jacques Verges defended, leaving us to draw our own conclusions about his character with limited information.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Robert L. Miller on January 30, 2009
Format: DVD
Barbet Schroeder's film was awarded the prize for best documentary at Cannes, and it is a riveting experience. The picture offers a candid view of the reactions and personas of many important international terrorists who have been in the news since the 1960s. But the story centers on the career of Jacques Vergès one of Europe's most controversial defense attorneys seen through a critical and, at times, overly sympathetic camera. From the start the viewer should be aware that the actual victims of terrorism, those who were the first to die at the hands of the killers, are very rarely mentioned or shown and that the perpetrators of those crimes are portrayed by their attorney as "soldiers" fighting for a just cause.
At the beginning of the Vergès story, around 1932, there was the vast French Colonial Empire with over 100 million subjects many times more populated and immense than France itself. The rare product of intermarriage in those days of strong racial prejudice, the attorney to be is the son of a French father from the island of La Réunion, located in the Indian Ocean, and a Khmer mother. But he is culturally and emotionally completely French while his features retain an elegant and distinctive Asian character. From the start the audience understands that he is also a consummate actor given to high flying histrionics who could certainly have played many leading roles at the Comédie Française.
In 1944 Vergès joins De Gaulle's Free French and stays on in Paris after the liberation where he attends law school and becomes active in various anti-colonialist student associations. One of his close friends is a Cambodian student who will later become the infamous "brother" Pol Pot.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Luc REYNAERT on August 18, 2009
Format: DVD
This movie gives an astonishingly revealing picture of the outspoken French lawyer Jacques Vergès, who defended such controversial figures as the terrorist Carlos, the Nazi criminal Klaus Barbie or a member of the Algerian resistance against French rule, Djamila Bouhireb. Jacques Vergès even confirms that he would have defended Adolf Hitler IF he pleaded guilty (George Steiner did it in his formidable book `In Bluebeard's Castle').

The movie reveals also the existence of a rightwing-religious financial network which provides judicial help for former fascists, like Nazi criminals.
However, Barbet Schroeder could not uncover the exact nature of Jacques Vergès's pro-Palestinian actions or his support of the Red Khmer regime (on which he gives here, again controversially, a more or less positive comment) during the years of his life when he acted `behind the scenes'.

This movie is a fascinating portrait of an iconoclastic rebel with a formidable intelligence and a profound analyzing capacity of the dark regions of man's nature and the amoral or immoral motives behind his behavior. By incorporating this behavior in a global context of `a world at war, a resistance to a colonial rule or a defense of minorities', he could (can) denounce all the parties involved or attack frontally the existing global world order and its alleged morality.
A must see.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jackal on February 16, 2010
Format: DVD
This is a fascinating study of one lawyer defending left-wing terrorists/freedom-fighters. I found it a bit too long, but perfect to watch in two-three parts. What I really found interesting was the directors 25 minute discussion of (1) Verges and (2) his own film. I don't think this interview is featured on the US edition, but it is available on the UK edition of the DVD. (Maybe also on the webpage)
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