May 19, 2007

Cannes. Terror's Advocate.

Terror's Advocate "Barbet Schroeder's documentary Terror's Advocate (L'avocat de le terreur) enjoyed a grand presentation yesterday evening, with Artistic Director Thierry Frémaux taking the stage before the screening, to welcome the director and two illustrious audience members, Michel Piccoli and Pedro Almodóvar," reports Camillo de Marco for Cineuropa. The Un Certain Regard entry focuses on Jacques Vergès, the French lawyer famous for having defended terrorists such as Magdalena Kopp and Carlos, and true 'monsters' of contemporary history such as Klaus Barbie and Pol Pot."

Writing for Screen Daily, Allan Hunter suggests that the film "could also stand as a complex guide through the rise and rise of global terrorism.... In many respects, Terror's Advocate is a conventional talking heads documentary that builds into a compelling, jigsaw-puzzle of a thriller reminiscent of a Frederick Forsyth bestseller or an epic drama like Spielberg's Munich."

"Sure to inspire debate in France and Germany and of obvious interest to anyone who follows the roots of modern international terrorism, doc probes gray areas in the colorful life of its controversial, limelight-courting subject," writes Lisa Nesselson in Variety. "When asked if he'd defend Hitler, Verges replies, 'I'd even defend Bush!' Under what conditions? 'Provided he pleaded guilty.'"

Updates, 5/20: "Schroeder's picture is more fascinating than most talking-head docs because the subject matter is so weirdly compelling and pertinent," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "Verges's tale is also a story of the mutation of the terror zeitgeist, from what many would call the laudable struggle of the Algerian people to the decadent terror-chic of Carlos and Magdelena Kopp.... Terror's Advocate could be, should be, longer, if only to give it, and its audience, some breathing room."

The Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt finds the doc "fascinating": "The key thing about Verges is that he was born in Thailand in 1924 or 1925 - even here he apparently is slippery - to a mother from Vietnam and a father from Reunion Island, the Indian Ocean island that is part of France. He thus came of age as multiracial in a colonial setting, which as one interviewee notes, means 'to be against things,' to be anti-establishment, anti-colonialist and anti-government."

Anthony Kaufman, writing at indieWIRE, finds that "the movie, at over two hours in length, loses its focus throughout with digressions and a lax structure that undermines the whole. US distributor Magnolia Pictures, who boarded the project earlier this year, should consider a recut."

Updates, 5/21: "There is plenty of violence and intrigue, but it seems likely that had Mr Schroeder pitched the project to a Hollywood studio, the story would have been dismissed as crazily implausible," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "In any case it works brilliantly as a documentary, with a narrative that is all the more amazing for being true." Vergès is "one of the most fascinating characters on screen in Cannes this year, a figure out of Joseph Conrad, a man whose life and personality become lenses through which a shadowy, paradoxical stretch of the recent past is refracted."

"Part of the film's fascination, at least to those unfamiliar with Vergès, is its novelty; the story is fresh, epic, and challenging to all preconceptions about the use of violence for political purposes," write Richard and Mary Corliss for Time. "To what extent, Schroeder asks, do individuals practice terrorism and countries practice military diplomacy, when both actions end in the deaths of dozens, or millions, of innocents?"

Update, 5/23: "L'avocate de la Terreur gets bogged down at times in mounting details of organizational relationships and plots, especially difficult for those not familiar with the historical events tackled, but it usually gets pulled back into line with Vergés' dynamic reappearance on screen," writes Hannah Eaves for PopMatters. "The logic behind these directorial decisions becomes clear as these details are used in the rationale for Verges' defense of a Nazi war criminal, but a simpler approach might benefit the film."

Update, 5/31: "At almost 2 1/2 hours, it's at once not nearly enough and far too much - an avalanche of ill-shaped information that obliterates Schroeder's end goals," writes Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog. "If this is a portrait of Vergès, it's an interesting, muddied, unsatisfying one. If it's a Cliffs Notes of contemporary terrorism, its attempting the impossible for a feature film."

Cannes @ 60. Index.

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Posted by dwhudson at May 19, 2007 4:23 PM