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Hotel Terminus via the Vélodrome d ’hiver: Collaboration and the Aesthetics of Denial Richard J. Golsan I N AN INTERVIEW published in the September 1988 issue of Ameri­ can Film, Marcel Ophuls describes “ Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie” as a film about “ one man who comes to justice,” a man Ophuls hastens to add, who is “ guilty as hell.” 1While not inaccurate, these remarks are curiously abrupt, and hardly do justice to a film which brilliantly portrays many of the historical complexities as well as the moral, ethical, and political ambiguities surrounding the case of Klaus Barbie. After scrupulously exploring the intricacies and ironies of the case over forty years and three continents, it is as if, in the inter­ view at least, Ophuls wishes to return to sure ground himself and close at least some of the doors he has opened. One explanation for Ophuls’ narrow assessment of “ Hotel Ter­ minus” is evident in comments made elsewhere in the same interview. According to Ophuls, the enemy that is bigger than Barbie . . . is moral relativism: the refusal to see what is specific about the Holocaust, the stupid idea that prosecutors are necessarily bad people and that criminals are always the underdog. These are things I find more and more disgust­ ing. . . . (“ Joy” 42) Despite the views of Jacques Vergés, Barbie’s lawyer, who carps con­ stantly in the film on the inhuman treatment of his client and compares Nazi atrocities to French abuses during the Algerian War, Ophuls in no way wishes the horror or uniqueness of the Holocaust to be obscured by the misguided humanitarian or relativist impulses occasionally voiced on screen. As the film amply demonstrates, such attitudes, in fact, frequent­ ly serve as smokescreens for unspoken sympathies for Barbie and his racist and xenophobic views. A second reason for Ophuls’ terse assessment of “ Hotel Terminus” and its subject can be gleaned from two other comments made during the same interview. Discussing the lessons of the trial, Ophuls speaks of the “ decency” of the French people and notes that the trial “ can give you a decent sense of what human justice should be about” (“ Joy” 43). Later, Vol. XXXIII, No. 1 75 L ’E s pr it C réa te u r when asked if “ Hotel Terminus” is related to Ophuls’ earlier film, “ Sorrow and the Pity,” and if, as film maker, he has not become “ a specialist in French guilt trips,” Ophuls replies that he is tired of the accusation of being a muckraker of France’s past and considers “ Sorrow and the Pity” to be a “ patriotic act” (“ Joy” 42). These comments suggest complementary motivations on the part of Ophuls which, I believe, clearly affected the making of the film and sub­ sequently influenced Ophuls’s assessment of his work. Despite French compromises during the Occupation, compromises which are so vividly portrayed in “ Sorrow and the Pity,” in “ Hotel Terminus” Ophuls wishes to emphasize the fundamental decency and, in many cases, the heroism of the French people as a whole. The French have, after all, had the courage to bring Barbie to trial. Accordingly, when addressing French complicity with Nazi brutalities and genocide, Ophuls focuses for the most part on marginal elements including criminals, traitors and various “ small fry.” He fails to deal with more significant figures whose own activities raise the ominous specter of crimes against humanity on the part of the French themselves. In this sense, “ Hotel Terminus” might be considered a “ patriotic act” for its omissions, and while Ophuls would apparently approve the designation, he would hardly con­ done the reason given. In order to understand the ways in which the French are presented in a favorable light in “ Hotel Terminus,” it is first necessary to consider the “ backdrop” against which they are portrayed. In an essay in Pre­ miere published in November 1988, Ophuls speaks of the technique of “ investigative sarcasm” 2used in the film, a technique appropriately and effectively employed in interviews with Germans, Americans, and South Americans who either knew or worked with Barbie or who offer com­ ments on the whole affair. At best, these witnesses come across as ignorant, indifferent, or...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 75-84
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
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