Based on a memoir by judge’s daughter Clemence Boulouque, “My Dad Is Into Terrorism” is a methodical and cumulatively powerful first-person account of the collateral damage wrought by the intersection of lethal violence and the law. Boulouque’s father, a conscientious judge investigating the mid-’80s wave of terrorist attacks that left 15 dead and 335 wounded in Paris, committed suicide when his daughter was only 13. Docu opened to almost universal acclaim in Gaul on Jan. 4 and, despite a very French political context, should be welcome at fests and in thoughtful tube slots worldwide.
Melancholy portrait marks a tonal departure for vet documaker William Karel (“The World According to Bush”) as the narration, spoken with somber authority by thesp Elsa Zylberstein, consists exclusively of passages from Boulouque’s book. Film is Karel’s first docu conceived directly for the bigscreen.
French title (literally, “The Judge’s Daughter”) refers to a schoolyard insult after 10-year-old Clemence’s father, Gilles, released a suspected terror mastermind after a two hour interview-cum-interrogation. Suspect, who had taken refuge at the Iranian embassy, went straight from the judge’s chambers to a plane waiting to fly him to Teheran.
The man’s departure was widely believed to be a government-ordered exchange for the release of French journalists held hostage in Lebanon. Less than 48 hours separated the two events in late November ’87.
In a surreal twist, the judge later found himself indicted for having violated the code of legal secrecy after another presumed terrorist took issue with an interview Boulouque had granted a French newspaper. Ostracized by his colleagues and openly ridiculed by political cartoonists, Gilles Boulouque continued to work on sensitive anti-terror cases but succumbed to the pressure of a tainted reputation. He shot himself on Dec. 13, 1990, at age 40.
Clemence moved to New York to attend Columbia U., arriving barely a month before Sept. 11, 2001. The U.S. attacks prompted her to write an account of how her father’s commitment to combating terrorism led to bodyguards, the specter of kidnapping, constant death threats and, eventually, suicide.
Docu concentrates mostly on how Clemence was robbed of her childhood insouciance by her father’s professional obligations. It doesn’t fully investigate whether Boulouque was ordered to jettison his integrity and liberate a guilty man in the broader interests of the French State.
Well-illustrated with the family’s Super-8 films — made doubly poignant by the contrast between Clemence as a happy little girl on vacation and as an adult woman in New York City — and archival evening news reports from all French networks, film overflows with the professional skepticism expressed at the time by print journalists and anchormen. Whether Boulouque was a coerced puppet or an unfairly maligned scapegoat remains an open question.
Students of contempo French history will be riveted by the cordially hostile form-over-content debate between then-prez Francois Mitterrand and then-Prime Minister Jacques Chirac as they exercise plausible deniability.
The essence of Clemence’s tale is now largely forgotten: The Paris terror attacks of ’85 and ’86 have blended into subsequent atrocities. She makes the observation that her father was “in the news but not part of history.”