Like his father, director Max Ophuls ("Letter From an Unknown Woman," "Lola Montes"), Marcel Ophuls explores the nature of oppression and prejudice in his work. Rather than making fiction films, Marcel has concentrated on using the medium to document historical events and to disrupt people's complacency.
Ophuls came to American with his family as a teenager, attending Hollywood High School and college in California. He began his film career in 1951 in France as an assistant to Julien Duvivier, John Huston, Anatole Litvak and his father. He also worked in a variety of capacities for German and French television. Ophuls made a quiet debut as a director with a sketch for the anthology film, "Love at Twenty" (1962), followed by "Peau de banane" (1963), a successful if routine detective film starring Jean-Paul Belmondo. But it was his "The Sorrow and the Pity" (1970) which brought him considerable international attention.
This monumental documentary, a profoundly moving indictment of collaboration, uses interviews and Nazi newsreel footage to chronicle events in occupied France, focusing on the town of Clermont-Ferrand. One of the striking qualities of the work is the remarkably relaxed and candid manner in which people recall extraordinary events. The film won numerous awards, including the Prix Georges Sadoul and an Oscar nomination, but in depicting a period in French history which many wanted to let fade from memory, it was considered so disturbing--some went as far as to label it "anti-gaullist"--that was it was banned from French TV until 1981. (The unstated fact that French cowardice and duplicity were being presented by a German Jew didn't help matters.)
While continuing to produce historical documentaries for television and theaters on subjects ranging from the My Lai massacre to the Nuremberg war crimes trials and the civil war in Northern Ireland, Ophuls also pursued acting and writing for magazines such as "American Film" and "Positif" and served on the board of the French Filmmakers' Society. His most recent work rivals "The Sorrow and the Pity" for its unrelenting examination of another concrete instance of the horrors of war.
"Hotel Terminus" (1988) takes as its subject the wartime activities of Klaus Barbie and the forty-year search for this Nazi collaborator known as the "Butcher of Lyon." In the process, Ophuls' film exposes the governmental collusion that allowed this man to remain hidden until 1983, when he was finally brought to trial. "Hotel Terminus" won the 1988 Academy Award for Best Documentary, as well as the International Critics Prize at the Cannes Film Festival the same year.
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Military service with occupations forces in Japan; performed with theater unit in Tokyo
Began working in France as assistant director
Worked as radio and TV story editor in West Germany
Wrote radio adaptation of Albert Camus's "The Fall"
Directed first dramatic work, "The Dock Brief," for German TV
Directed first short film, "Matisse or the Talent for Happiness," featuring voice of Jeanne Moreau
Directed first feature, "Banana Peel"
Directed "The Sorrow and the Pity"; received Oscar nomination for Best Documentary
Spent one year at CBS News
Spent one year at ABC News
Won international acclaim and an Academy Award for Best Documentary for "Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie"