Tag Archives: Marcel Ophüls

XL Popcorn – Hôtel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
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Title: Hôtel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie
Directors: Marcel Ophüls
Year: 1988
Country: France

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.


XL Popcorn – The Sorrow and the Pity

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 601/1007
Title: The Sorrow and the Pity (Le Chagrin et la Pitié)
Director: Marcel Ophüls
Year: 1969
Country: France

When I said I might be sticking around in France for a while The Sorrow and the Pity was not the film I quite had in mind. Honestly, I thought I would be watching Masculine-Feminine and end up complaining about, yet again, not understanding Jean-Luc Godard. Instead, we went for one of the longest films left on the 1001 list and ended up with a 4 hour documentary about the German occupation of France in World War II.

With the exception of the OJ: Made in America documentary (which is really more a TV series than a film) the last documentary film that I saw was The Thin Blue LineWhen I think about how long ago that was (just over a year) I am appalled at how long it has been.

Considering the political climate of the moment (as in I watched this before the final round of the French presidential elections) a film like this is one that needs to be shown more often. Never have I come across a documentary that is able to explain the psychology of a nation so succinctly.

It has become a bit of a running gag in English-language pop culture that the French will surrender at the first sign of trouble. This is despite the fact that other nations did pretty much the same thing in the face of an unstoppable war machine. Having watched The Sorrow and the Pity I have a greater deal of understanding how this all came to be.

It’s complicated and I’m unlikely to ever completely understand it, but that’s okay. As former UK Prime Minister Anthony Eden so succinctly put it at the end of the film: “One who has not suffered the horrors of an occupying power has no right to judge a nation that has.” These are words (that need to be repeated ad nauseum on news broadcasts) which make for the perfect summary of this film.

Over the course of 4 and a bit hours Marcel Ophüls takes us through France’s occupation, collaboration and liberation. Through the use of interviews and archive footage we meet so many people from leaders to resistance-fighting farmers and get to know them through their actions in this period.

As you listen to stories such as those of Prime Minister Laval sending 4000 Jewish children to their death, a woman framing a friend for denouncing her husband and naive French citizens who took the Nazi invaders’ words for truth you end up asking the impossible question – how would I have acted?

The answer for this just circles back to Eden’s quote – unless you have been a citizen in an occupied nation, you can never judge. With all the history and all the information that The Sorrow and the Pity imparts it is this weird feeling that I am left with. It’s not a comfortable one either.

I know that Shoah is seen by many to be THE documentary about World War II, but a real case can be argued for The Sorrow and the Pity. The scope of the documentary is grander and, where Shoah was an onslaught of pain, this film creates a compelling narrative that answers questions about Vichy France that I never knew I had.