Well that was a depressing film to watch in the run up to Christmas. I know that some of the interviews took part in front of a Christmas tree, but this is definitely not the best film to be seeing with the decorations up. Thing is, the Christmas break is one of the few times where I can fully justify spending four and half hours watching a movie that isn’t Gone With The Wind.
In a way you can see this film as being a follow-up to The Sorrow and the Pity in that it continues the narrative of the German occupation of France in World War Two. It’s just that, in Hôtel Terminus Marcel Ophüls narrows the scope into looking at one commander within the Gestapo – the titular Klaus Barbie, also known as ‘The Butcher of Lyon’.
There is no denying that Hôtel Terminus and the life of Klaus Barbie is worthy of over four hours of exploration. The question is whether this would have worked better as a series of 8-10 half hour episodes rather than a straight four and a half hours. After all, the life and times of Klaus Barbie is a complex topic – as are the reasons for it taking decades before the powers that be went in to arrest him.
One thing that is interesting about the interviews in Hôtel Terminus is that you have a lot of evasion, a lot of contradiction and even a few altercations. The topic of Klaus Barbie and the other former Nazi officers who are still alive is clearly a sore spot – especially in the South American countries where a number of these men have taken up residence. Of course, this is further complicated by the fact that a number of these men ended up working for the US in the field of espionage.
It’s also interesting to note how this film deals with the contemporary ambivalence around the trial of Klaus Barbie. Some of these points are logical (i.e. this was done 40 years ago and aren’t there statutes of limitations on crime) whilst others veer towards the realm of antisemitism. Considering the way we are going with politics in certain parts of Europe, it is enough to make you shudder when you think that some of these views haven’t been left 30-odd years ago.