His clients have included international terrorists such as Carlos the Jackal and war criminals such as Klaus Barbie. It is hardly surprising then that he proves adept at defending his own actions in this documentary about his life. Although veteran fiction director Barbet Schroeder cannot always shed light on the mysteries in Vergès’ career, he succeeds in showing how deep they are and the complexity of their origins.


As the journalist Lionel Duroy observes in the film, Vergès was born colonised. His mother was Vietnamese, his father from the French island of Réunion, and it was the anti-colonial movement that first brought Vergès to prominence as a young lawyer. His international career began in 1957 when he represented Djamila Bouhired, a young woman sentenced to death for planting a bomb in an Algiers café. The bombing campaign was later fictionalised in Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers (1966), and Schroeder’s interweaving of scenes from the film with comments from those involved makes a fascinating sub-plot.

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