TERROR'S ADVOCATE directed by Barbet Schroeder, written by Prosper Keating. A Mongrel Media release. 135 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (November 16). Rating: NNNNN
At 65, Barbet Schroeder isn't quite one of the grand old men of the nouvelle vague, but he's getting there. He produced Eric Rohmer's first films, after all.
Over a 40-year career, he's done everything from Hollywood hits (Reversal Of Fortune, Single White Female) and flops (Murder By Numbers) to oddball anthropological dramas like More and some great documentaries, including General Idi Amin Dada and Koko, A Talking Gorilla.
The French title, L'Avocat De La Terreur, has been variously translated, most directly as The Terrorist's Lawyer. The polylingual Schroeder is no doubt aware of the ambiguities involved in translating "l'avocat" as "lawyer" or "advocate."
Terror's Advocate is a documentary about Jacques Vergès, a French lawyer whose clients have included various Palestinian hijackers, Carlos the Jackal, members of the Algerian FLN and, most improbably, Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie.
Schroeder spent more than two and a half years on what is in essence a talking-heads documentary, and the heads are fascinating: Vergès himself, now past 80 but still lethally smart; survivors of the Algerian war of independence; members of the Red Army Faction; Pol Pot. (When a lawyer gets an endorsement from Pol Pot, hey, you can't buy that sort of pub.)
It's a little long and drags about an hour in, but soon after that reasserts its narrative effectively. Schroeder almost maintains a perfect ironic neutrality as he pokes around Vergès's "missing" years, when he may or may not have been hanging out with actual terrorists.
This is most worth seeing as a look at the roots and branches of modern terror and how one man seems to be a part of it without ever getting his hands dirty.