November 11, 1988 [Hotel Terminus]

I watched Hotel Terminus, but all I could see was Charles Manson with a swastika carved into his forehead--which must've made Klaus Barbie grin, seeing the poor dupe pretending to be evil--when what you really need to be, Barbie informs us, is cool as a cucumber and willing to keep talking over all protests, cries and whimpers.

Max Ophuls continues to interrogate France and the rest of us--just in time, too, everybody still alive, memories fresh enough to prevaricate--but Ophuls is almost as good as Barbie at making them talk--certainly with less fuss, no need to clean up afterwards. But the closer he got to Barbie, the clearer was Manson's face, "just another sucker on the vine," making Nazis as romantic as Blakean demons fitted out with cool wings and darting tongues, snazzy as an early-'70s album cover--or the side of a van airbrushed with a sexy devil clutching a Frank Frazetta babe, riding rolling thunder and eternal diabolical delight. Meanwhile, the real Nazis hide like embezzling bank clerks, amused at how easy it is to puff up every Manson they need as a prop and fall guy, swindling them with their own self-importance.

It's Hannah Arendt's "banality of evil" with a sideshow--but at the end of the interrogation, Ophuls finds in one woman's memory Madame Bontout--a name so remarkable it seems fabricated--who tried to save a little girl from Barbie's grasp. It's the movie's only hope, despite the firm guilty verdict.

The film--is it a film? So long and scattered, so angry and desperate, so cool and thorough? It seems more about Ophuls hoping to reach a conclusion, ready to lay out the sprawling evidence of the French problem of the War, his hand fanning thousands of documents like an impenetrable hand of cards, the game itself still being played all around the world. So maybe it isn't a film but a series of memories and warnings, exhausted and exhausting--while Barbie fades into the jungle down there, calm in his cell like Norman Bates.


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