Terror’s Advocate: Learning to Love Pol Pot

Anyone wishing to ponder the origins and fate of the European New Left, as well as the development of political terrorism, should rent The Battle of Algiers, catch Godard's La Chinoise, and then go see Barbet Schroeder's engrossing new documentary, Terror's Advocate. Thirty-plus years after his docu-shocker Idi Amin Dada, Schroeder portrays another manifestation of political evil—rogue lawyer Jacques Vergès. A sometime communist most notorious for defending Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie, aka the Butcher of Lyons, Vergès claims to identify with the France of Montaigne and Diderot—but though he is the suave embodiment of Third World rage, there is a particular awful logic to his career. The son of a French father and an Indo-Chinese mother, Vergès was an anticolonial activist whose student comrades included the future butcher of Cambodia, Pol Pot. As a young lawyer, Vergès was immersed in the struggle for Algerian independence—most prominently as the defense attorney for Djamila Bouhired, the real-life prototype for the female bombers in The Battle of Algiers. Not altogether unromantic, Vergès married Algeria's revolutionary heroine, then disappeared into the underground, only to re-emerge in the violent aftermath of the '60s as an attorney for the West German zealots of the Red Army Faction and the world's most wanted man, Carlos the Jackal. Terror's Advocate is largely a mix of talking heads and archival footage, but as Vergès' connections to Swiss neo-Nazis and Congo secessionists are explored, the movie becomes a fantastic international thriller.

 
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