Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie [VHS]
- Amazon Sales Rank: #4471 in VHS
- Released on: 2000-07-05
- Rating: NR (Not Rated)
- Number of discs: 2
- Formats: Black & White, Closed-captioned, Color, Original recording reissued, NTSC
- Original language: English, French, German, Spanish
- Running time: 267 minutes
This brilliantly constructed documentary presents the story of Klaus Barbie--head of the Gestapo in Lyon, France, during the Nazi occupation--by amassing interviews with those who came into contact with the notorious war criminal. The many interviewees speak at length (accounting for the documentary's total running time of more than four hours), and an image of Barbie as both a real person and a symbol of evil slowly emerges. Those who knew him as a student profess to be puzzled over his later reputation, but a woman who served in the French resistance and was beaten nearly to death by Barbie solemnly recounts the hideous tortures he inflicted on her. Filmmaker Marcel Ophüls (The Sorrow and the Pity) spoke to a number of resistance veterans, aging Nazis, and even retired American intelligence agents who employed Barbie to spy on Communists following the end of World War II. When Ophüls conducted interviews in the mid-1980s, Barbie was an old man languishing in a French jail after decades of living comfortably in South America. Memories of him, and all the pain he inflicted, were still vivid. As the many interview subjects speak (some slam doors and even punch at the camera), their own characters and motivations are revealed, and the truly unsettling character of Klaus Barbie is exposed. --Robert J. McNamara
There Are Documentaries: There ARE Documentaries
This film is a great masterpiece. Despite the nominal subject, Klaus Barbie, the "Butcher of Lyons" during the occupation of France by Germany during World War II, it delves deeply into a much broader subject. Master filmmaker Marcel Ophüls, so unpretentiously and with a mastery of English, German, and French, takes us back in time to the days when the Gestapo Headquarters in Paris was at the train station--Hotel Terminus--still standing with its moniker in the 1980s. He follows through interviews with famed French Nazi-hunters the Klarsfelds, to Barbie's bodyguard in South America, to Germans associated with the Germanization of Bolivia...around the globe, the story of the lowly Barbie from childhood to trial as a War Criminal in France in the 1980s is told masterfully--even with an occasional note of sardonic humor. Could it be otherwise?
This is a spellbinding four hour, twenty eight minute documentary, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary film in 1988. Yes, it rings as true 16 years later as it did then, perhaps even more so! It is as timeless a documentary as Leni Riefenstahls "Triumph of the Will" documenting the aspirations of the Third Reich itself. Interlaced with Barbies story, Ophüls hangs out in pool halls with "everyday" Frenchmen, hears their opinions, visits Barbie's childhood home where the high school he attended has no institutional memory of him, to the mountains of Bolivia where even the uniforms of the President and his minions are reminiscent of Hugo Boss's designs of uniforms for the Third Reich...
This is a fascinating trip through the Western World of the 20th century that, in my opinion stands the test of time as one of the best on the personalities of the Third Reich. The legal problems facing Jackson at Nuremberg reappear in the 1980s as Barbie is finally, after many years, extradited back to France although his whereabouts are known. France struggles to deal with its own complicity, the failings of its own legal system...and in the days to come, we will see this drama re-emerge in the post-Iraq War II.
Barbie re-emerges as a brutal man, though ill in late life, and the witnesses bring him to life. The Jewish children, hidden in the countryside, whom he deported to Auschwitz are heard from once again. A deported Jew is but vaguely remembered by an apartment-house neighbor. The stench of Evil remains, even in the prevarications of common bureaucrats.
Although not rated, this film is not appropriate for pre-teens, and should be seen by teenagers and young adults only when the context can be discussed with informed adults.
Had Marcel Ophüls produced no other work, and this one obviously took years, it would have been enough.
Although repeated many times, those who do not learn from history seem bound to repeat it. Globally, we're not doing very well, as it would seem so aptly demonstrated here.
fascinating story of complicity - politics around Barbie
The career of Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon is a fascinating one, and Ophuls' 4-hour documentary does a justice. Not that Barbie himself was anything extraordinary, but Nazi system of hate has put thugs like Barbie in position to inflict so much damage (it is estimated more than 10,000 Jews and Resistants were killed or deported during Barbie's reign of terror), which could be achieved only through French collaboration. Then U.S. and Vatican shipped Barbie out of reach of justice to Bolivia, where Barbie continued to use his expertise for the dictatorship. Ophul's documentary covers all these entagled webs of complicity and moral ambiguities (which delayed justice for 40 years) in an appropriate mood of cynicsm.
However, I read some reviewers criticizing the documentary for digression and slowness, especially in the first part of the movie, which I think is unfair for this movie was made for French viwers as well as for American viewers. And Barbie the war criminal also happens to be French Oswald, and the question of who betrayed Jean Moulin, the head of French Resistance is the French JFK - with eqaully, in fact more outragious conspiracy theories. The only differency is that these conspiracy theories made headlines and primetime TV coverages and raised serious political controversies. About the quality of the movie, it will be suffice to say that this documentary is one of very few fascinating and thought-provoking movies there are, stranger even than fiction. But let me give few background information since the movie may be confusing unless one is familiar with Jean Moulin affair as the French audience. (One of few faults with the movie is that the uninformed might come away with impression that some of discussed conspiracy theories are true - such as theory that Jean Moulin is a crypto-communist .)
The reason Barbie became infamous and sought after by the French after the war (but Americans shielded him) is that he tortured to death Jean Moulin, who is credited to have unified the French Resitance. Togeher with de Gaulle, his efforts are even credited with making sure that France, upon liberation, had legal government and avoided both Allied occupation and civil wars. In any case, Moulin was the highest-ranking member of French Resitance ever captured by the Nazis, and while it was clear that his arrest was due to treason within the ranks of Resistance, the question of who betrayed him remained one of the most discussed mysteries in the French history of WWII. Among the theories are 1) Rene Hardy, a major Resitance leader betrayed Moulin after cracking under pressure from Gestapo 2)Benouville, Hardy's superior and a royalist, betrayed Moulin because Moulin was thought to be too sympathetic to the communists 3)Moulin was a crypto-communist (according to Henri Frenay, the superior of Benouville) 4)The communists betrayed Moulin because Moulin, the former cryto-communist turned gaullist 5)there was no treason, arrest was due to security leaks (Hardy's version), and so on. In any case, elimination of Moulin had profound impact in the subsequent direction of Resitance and post-war politics. The official version is that there was definitely a treason, but nobody knows who (in the court, Hardy was tried and acquitted twice), yet mentioned versions are from time to time put forward by left and right-wings to discredit the other. The image of France unified in resitance is sullied every time Moulin's arrest comes up, and hence reluctancy to bring Barbie to trial. Barbie thus becomes the ghost of bitter rivalies in Resitance. (Howerver, I think Ophuls debunks Restiance myth too much. He once said that there was no unity at all in French resistance, which is rather an extreme view to say the least.)
Even greater movie (in fact, historically significant) than Hotel Terminus is Ophuls' earlier 4-hour documentary "The Sorrow and Pity", which is recently released on DVD. Higly recommended.
A Chilling Must-See
Along with Alain Resnais's NIGHT AND FOG and Leni Riefenstahl's THE TRIUMPH OF THE WILL, Marcel Ophuls' HOTEL TERMINUS is essential historical viewing. The twisted years of Nazi domination in France are brutally related here, as Frenchman turns on Frenchman with the Gestapo behind it all. Klaus Barbie was "made" by his capture of Jean Moulin, the founder and leader of the French resistance. The events leading up to Moulin's capture are discussed in detail, but everyone has his or her own memory of what happened and theory as to who was responsible. Ophuls forces the viewer to consider the fallacy and uncertainty of historical memory and the ease with which one can fall from the light to the dark. Ophuls' interviews with former US intelligence officers are particularly enlightening and disturbing; one realizes to what extent the US used "former" Nazi officers to spy on the Russians. A time-bending journey into the dark years of occupied Europe and the years immediately following the end of the war. A fantastic companion piece to Ophuls' legendary but rare THE SORROW AND THE PITY and THE MEMORY OF JUSTICE.