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Friday, 08 August 2008 07:12

Terror

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oyster shellsTerror's Advocate

Jaque Verges is a smirking, cigar wielding, French lawyer who has defended and been involved with a range of characters who can be described as 'colourful' in the same way as a gunshot wound can be.

He has represented a rogue's gallery or hall of fame, depending on your viewpoint, of extremists, terrorists, nazis, murderers, freedom fighters and assassins, from the right and the left.  He counts among his friends Carlos 'the Jackal', Swiss nazi benefactor Francois Genoud and Pol Pot,  under whose leadership an estimated 1.4 million people died.

Berbet Schroeder's film, which documents Verges extraordinary life, offers a tantalising insight into the man, including speculation over the 8 years in which he 'disappeared' from public life. Was he with Pol Pot? Was he a secret agent? Was he living a simple life in Paris?

At first it is possible to believe the notion he spins of himself - a man driven by principle, drawn to the struggle of the Algerian freedom fighters in his youth and defending bombers from the death penalty.

But then, through his proceeding career and his associations, the line of principle becomes untenable.

He defended Klaus Barbie, the former Gestapo chief, for example, justifying his position by posturing about establishment hypocrisy. In spite of his efforts, the Nazi war criminal was found guilty on 341 counts, including one incident where 44 children were rounded up from a farmhouse east of Lyon, at Izieu, and sent to their deaths.

In the second half of the film the introduction of Ilich Ramirez Sanchez or Carlos 'the jackal' somewhat overshadows Verges, this man whom a compatriot describes as a 'psychopath' struts an intriguing figure across Verges' life, as do many of the characters, including Algerian bomber Djamila Bouhired (the first deathrow woman he rescues and falls for) and the deadpan Magdalena Kopp (the second) or the repentant Hans Klein.

An extraordinary story is unfolded, and this is a stunning film, with exceptional access to the people involved and a wide reaching overview of this man's questionable but astonishing life.

By the end of this fascinating  film, you are left with an enigmatic figure in Verges, with whom it is not possible to sympathise.  Was he simply driven by ego? or something darker?

It is essential, for the law to be just, that everyone be defended.  

But I found myself asking, who can defend Verges?

4 out of 5

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