This full-length documentary deals with the life, career and trial of Nazi SS officer Klaus Barbie, known as the Butcher of Lyons. Virtually all aspects of his life are covered. His childhood and schooling in Germany; his early military career; his role in the head of intelligence in Lyons; his post-war employment by the US military; his life in Bolivia; his return to Europe; his trial and conviction. Interviewed are friends, enemies, associates, heroes and traitors. Written by
Marcel Ophuls' mammoth four-and-one-half hour-long portrait of Gestapo commandant Klaus Barbie, the notorious Butcher of Lyon, is more than just a biography of another Nazi mass murderer. The film also provides a meticulous study of the forces which allowed him to survive for so long, from wartime anti-Semitism to post-war Communist paranoia to a prevailing what's-done-is-done attitude of retroactive amnesia. Ophuls is not so complacent, and makes no apologies for his sometimes confrontational approach to the subject. In his mind those who don't learn from the past are doomed to repeat it, and the sheer volume of verbal testimony, from enemies and friends alike, is only the director's way of ensuring we neither forgive nor forget. The scope of the film is vast, covering over forty years and spanning several continents, but the scale is intimate: one voice, one detail at a time, making it an exhaustive but hardly exhausting account of one monstrous but admittedly small cog in an evil machine, pieces of which are still well-oiled and operating even today.
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