Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie (1988) * Worst Hit *


Where it's really bad being a Barbie Girl
Where it's really bad being a Barbie Girl

Genre: Documentary (West Germany, France, USA)

Starring: French resistance fighters and surviving prisoners.

Directed By: Marcel Ophüls (The Sorrow and the Pity)

Overview: This film explores the events of Hotel Terminus, the headquarters of the German SS in occupied France during World War II. Through interviews of French resistance fighters, prisoners and American intelligence officers, the life of Klaus Barbie is... uncovered?

With great assistance from Hotel Terminus, we have another Filmsquish first. I have finally succumbed to the need for better time management. Today's first is reviewing a 'film' that I never finished watching.

Let it be said that of all the films in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, Hotel Terminus will most likely be the only one I will not bring myself to finishing. I have no plans to ever do so and furthermore have removed from my queue my reservation of The Sorrow And The Pity: Chronicle Of A French City Under The Occupation, a 4-hour made-for-TV documentary by this same director, Marcel Ophüls (not to be confused with the much-less malignable Max Ophüls).

You see, when I read the title of this doc, I automatically assumed that it would be high drama content of the monstrous accounts of The Butcher of Lyon. Well, the first two hours were about individuals who were either French Resistance soldiers who co-operated with Barbie, or those who were tortured by Barbie, usually discussing the cowardice of those who talked, of men who were traitors to the liberation. The grand total of time spent talking about Barbie's life, times or deeds, was approximately twenty minutes. Marcel seemed more content shooting the shit and basking on the glory tales of old heroes than getting to the point. Four and a half hours? Not on my dime, pal.

Cinematographically, Hotel Terminus is tedious: sparse living room interviews and minimal archive footage take its toll. Thematically, the film's focus is about as loose as a Talahasee whore and all this documentary has done to teach me any lessons is to show me what NOT to do as a documentary filmmaker.

The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie ignores all illusion of unbiased reporting. The documentarist is all too prevalent in the production, his questions are leading and inferential and the point at which I realized this was an immature waste of time was when, as part of the 4 ½ hours (did I mention the duration?) of this drawn-out 'anything-but-the-life-of-Klaus-Barbie' documentary, a scene where Marcel and some production assistant stand in front of the camera sardonically sharing a 'this is what hell we had to deal with when talking to people and asking for an interview'.

Marcel stood there, making the international symbol of 'my hand is a phone now' pretending to talk to a German. He would explain that he was doing a documentary on Germany.  The PA would pretend to be interested.  Marcel would mention Klaus Barbie.  The PA would get all nervous and come up with a reason to refuse to do a live interview.

Thanks Marcel. I really couldn't fathom that Germans, for some reason, wouldn't necessarily be interested in talking about Nazi SS Officers in charge of the slaughter of thousands. Thanks for putting me in your world, you're so goddamned enlightening.

The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie contributes about as much to the history of documentary filmmaking as a kick in the groin: you don't want to remember it because it hurts, and the pain always goes on for too long.

It wouldn't be so bad if he didn't look like Robocop's Clarence Boddicker!
Marcel Ophüls: It wouldn't be so bad if he didn't look like Robocop's Clarence Boddicker!

5 Cinematography: 4 Script: 5 Plot: 3 Mood: 6

Overall Rating: 46% (Barbie World? Not Fantastic)

A poorly edited, way-too-long film does in no way make it epic. Honest stories about people who suffered are fascinating, yet the political landscape of the French underground is quite secondary to a German officer's life and delving into this so deeply for so long simply makes me realize that Marcel Ophüls is nothing more than a prima donna director thinking that we the audience want to hear your vision repeated over and over. 

Wrong, von Ophüls.

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