It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Over and over, during the course of the film, people protest that Ophuls is asking questions about things that happened “over 40 years ago.” If that were true, it would not be a reason to avoid asking the questions. But it is not true. The whole point of the movie is that Barbie’s war did not end with everyone else’s, with the defeat of Nazi Germany.
Barbie was one of the lucky ones whose skills (mostly torture and interrogation) were useful to the postwar Allies in their fight against communism. So he was sheltered from charges of war crimes, used by various agencies (most notably the CIA), and eventually provided with a new identity and resettled in South America - where he continued to practice his torturer’s trade.
Barbie was eventually located and denounced by anti-Nazi groups, was extradited by Bolivia, stood trial in Germany, was convicted of war crimes including the sentencing of 41 orphans to Nazi war camps, and is serving a life sentence. “Hotel Terminus” is not about his capture, trial and conviction. It is about how people remember him.
Some remember what they want to remember, others remember what they cannot forget. In the film’s most harrowing monologue, a woman describes how Barbie methodically tortured one particular prisoner - her father. In other interviews, we learn that Barbie “made the Gestapo respectable” in Lyons by joining it, that he may have betrayed various Resistance fighters, that he enjoyed hitting people, and also that he was a “nice” man, an intelligent man, and a man who was useful to the Allies after the war. As we listen to retired American intelligence agents describe how they used him, there is the impression that he was just the man they needed, a man not too squeamish to do the dirty jobs they were reluctant to do themselves.