Skip to main content

HOTEL TERMINUS: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF KLAUS BARBIE

USA, 1987 (MIFF 1989)

Director: Marcel Ophuls

Sixteen years after is momentous documentary The Sorrow And The Pity, Marcel Ophulus once more turns his attention to the events of of World War II, and one of it's most notorious figures Klaus Barbie.

Barbie was Gestapo chief during the days of the German Occupation, his sadism earning him the title ' The Butcher Of Lyon'. From the headquarters at Hotel Terminus. Barbie issued order for the killing of 4,00 people( including the Resistance leader Jean Moulin), and the deportation of 7,500 Resistance fighters and Jews to concentration camps

In 1983, Barbie, living under assumed identity as Klaus Altmann, was tracked down in Bolivia and secretly extradicted to France, where he stood trial. Represented by controversial attorney Jacques Verges, himself described as' a man of subde wit and limitless ambiguity', Barbie was sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity.

The idea for the film came well before the welt-pubticised trial. Ophuls was approached by the editor of Nation to cover the trial and was conducting research when he realised the story should be told with a camera. John S. Friedman, a former professor of literature, contacted Ophuls and offered to produce the film. The one-million dollar budget was raised entirely in the US. French investors shied away from the project, no doubt wary of the sensitive nature of the subject. (Ophuls's earlier The Sorrow And The Pity was banned from French television for nine years.)

In the event, television cameras were barred from the couttroom and the French Government blocked Ophuls's attempts to film Barbie in jail awaiting trial. Ophuls, however, set out on his own investigative enquiry, tracking down hundreds of witnesses across three continents. Beginning with Barbie's daughter, childhood friends and war-time colleagues, Ophuls extended his search to inctude his equally sensational, and notorious, career after World War II.

Thus, Ophuls's testimony goes far beyond the horrors of the Holocaust and World War II. Around a Christmas tree he interviewed former members of the American Counter­intelligence Corps (the fore-runner to the CIA) about the organisation's role in the white-washing of Barbie, recruitment as a spy in post-War Germany and subsequent dispatch down the 'rat-line' to the safety of South America. Ophuls also spent two weeks filming in Peru and Bolivia, where Barbie's activities included arms and drugs trafficking, and where he is an honorary colonel in the Bolivian Army.

Despite the gravity of the subject-matter and Ophuls's relentless, single-minded pursuit, Hotel Terminus manages to be an engrossing film, carved with a deeply-ironic sensibility. 'In Hotel Terminus, I am dealing with people who are mostly lying,' Ophuls says. He compares the film's construction to that of a Hitchcock film where the audience knows from the outset who the guilty person is, and the rest of the film is spent watching how people lie and how the crime is committed.

'Making this film,' says Ophuls, 'is like an intense fight for the survival of memory itself. I want Barbie to be judged so that what he did is burned into history and will never happen again

See also...

THE TROUBLES WE'VE SEEN (1ST AND 2ND JOURNEYS)

Marcel Ophuls has an unbeatable opening to The Troubles We've Seen: A History of Joumalism in Wartime: the true story of how World War II was declared on the very day his father, Max Ophuls, was ... More »

STAND AND DELIVER

Independently produced as Walking on Water as an American Playhouse project, Stand and Deliver, emerges as neither exploitation dross nor action fodder despite the ambiguous title ... Rather it is a ... More »

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story

As the above listing suggests, there's so much going on in Superstar's 43 minutes that it's difficult to know where to start a description. Suffice to say this is one of the most original films ... More »

THE BEAT GENERATION - AN AMERICAN DREAM

Janet Foreman's contribution to the resurgence of interest in the Beat Generation premiered in the market place at this year's Berlin Film Festival. It contains rare archival film and present day ... More »

RIGHTS AND REACTIONS

This explosive one hour documentary gives air to various positions on a topical, contentious issue the legal and civil rights of lesbians and homosexual men. Against the mounting concern and ... More »

Select a festival
Search The Film Archive
Browse By Director