October 10, 1988 12:00 PM

Have you got four hours and 27 minutes? Then it’s difficult to think of a more provocative way to spend the time than watching this powerhouse piece of horror history. The Hotel Terminus served as Nazi headquarters in Lyons, where between 1942 and 1944 Gestapo commander Klaus Barbie decreed the deportation of 7,000 French Jews and the murder of more than 4,000 people, including 41 children. Barbie, known as the Butcher of Lyons, was sentenced to life only last year. The circumstances that allowed Barbie to thrive in the decades between provide the focus for this new work from master documentarian Marcel (The Sorrow and the Pity) Ophuls. This is not a Holocaust film. There are no scenes of butchery, ovens or death camps, though their memory is deeply felt through interviews with camp survivors. Barbie isn’t even the film’s chief target. Ophuls has two more virulent foes: One is complicity, the kind that enabled Barbie to win French, American, Vatican and Red Cross escape assistance, employment in the U.S. Army’s Counterintelligence Corps and sanctuary in Bolivia, where military dictator Hugo Banzer Suarez found Barbie a font of information about torture and weapons dealing. The other foe is indifference. Questioning nearly 100 witnesses to Barbie’s life, Ophuls hears constant refrains of “That was 40 years ago” and “Let’s forget.” Ophuls, a German Jew who became a French citizen in 1938, isn’t about to forget. He means to mock, to humiliate, to outrage. He wants us to see Barbie as a symbol of sanctioned terrorism whose threat continues. His film, which tears at the mind and heart, is a monumental achievement. (Not Rated)

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