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Marcel Ophuls

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Marcel Ophuls
Born (1927-11-01) 1 November 1927 (age 96)
Frankfurt, Germany
CitizenshipFrench and American[1]
EducationHollywood High School
Alma materOccidental College, Los Angeles
University of California, Berkeley
OccupationFilm director
Years active1950–present
Notable workThe Sorrow and the Pity (1969)
Hôtel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie (1988)
SpouseRegine Ophuls
Parent(s)Max Ophüls
Hildegard Wall
AwardsAcademy Award for Best Documentary Feature (1988)

Marcel Ophuls (German: [ˈɔfʏls]; born 1 November 1927) is a German-French documentary film maker and former actor, best known for his films The Sorrow and the Pity and Hôtel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie.

Life and career[edit]

Ophuls was born in Frankfurt, Germany, the son of Hildegard Wall and the director Max Ophüls. His family left Germany in 1933 following the coming to power of the Nazi Party and settled in Paris, France. Following the invasion of France by Germany in May 1940 they were forced to flee to the Vichy zone, remaining in hiding for over a year before crossing the Pyrenees into Spain in order to travel to the United States, arriving there in December 1941. Marcel attended Hollywood High School, then Occidental College, Los Angeles. He spent a brief period serving in a U.S. Army theatrical unit in Japan in 1946, then studied at the University of California, Berkeley.[2] Ophuls became a naturalized citizen of France in 1938, and of the United States in 1950.[3]

When the family returned to Paris in 1950 Marcel became an assistant to Julien Duvivier and Anatole Litvak, and worked on John Huston's Moulin Rouge (1952) and his father's Lola Montès (1955). Through François Truffaut, Ophuls got to direct an episode of the portmanteau film Love at Twenty (1962). There followed the commercial hit Banana Peel (1964), a detective film starring Jeanne Moreau and Jean-Paul Belmondo.

With a slump in box-office fortunes, Ophuls turned to television news reporting and a documentary on the Munich crisis of 1938: Munich (1967). He then embarked on his examination of France under Nazi occupation, The Sorrow and the Pity. Although he enjoyed making entertaining films, Ophuls became identified as a documentarian, using a characteristically sober interview style to resolve disparate experiences into a persuasive argument. A Sense of Loss (1972) looked at Northern Ireland, and The Memory of Justice (1973) was an ambitious comparison of US policy in Vietnam and the atrocities of the Nazis. Disagreements with his French backers over interpretation led Ophuls to smuggle a print to New York where it was shown privately. Legal wrangles left him disappointed and financially broke, and Ophuls turned to university lecturing.

In the mid-1970s, he began producing documentaries for CBS and ABC. His feature documentary Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie (1988) won an Academy Award; since then he has made an interview film with two senior East German Communists, November Days (1992) and a ruminative look at how journalists cover war, The Trouble We've Seen (1994).[4]

Every year the IDFA (International Documentary Festival) in Amsterdam screens an acclaimed filmmaker's ten favorite films. In 2007, Iranian filmmaker Maziar Bahari selected The Sorrow and the Pity for his top ten classics from the history of documentary. At the 65th Berlin International Film Festival in February 2015 Ophuls received the Berlinale Camera award for his life work.[5]

In 2014, Ophuls began crowd-sourcing funds for his new film Unpleasant Truths, about the continuing Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, to be co-directed with Israeli filmmaker Eyal Sivan. In part, the film seeks to focus on possible links between the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza and the rise in anti-Semitism in Europe as well as whether "Islamophobia is the new anti-Semitism."[6] It was originally intended as a collaboration with Jean-Luc Godard, who backed out early in the process; Godard makes an appearance as himself in the film. As of 2017, the film had not yet been completed due to unspecified financial and legal troubles, and may not be finished ever.[7]


Marcel, like his father Max, prefers not to use the German umlaut in his name. Ophuls senior removed the umlaut when he took French citizenship, and Marcel has adopted the same spelling.[8]


As director[edit]

As actor[edit]


  • The sorrow and the pity : a film by Marcel Ophüls, Introduction by Stanley Hoffmann. Filmscript translated by Mireille Johnston. Biographical and appendix material by Mireille Johnston, New York : Berkeley Publishing Corporation, 1975

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Marcel Ophuls". Austrian Film Museum. 2013. Retrieved 19 August 2013.
  2. ^ "The Sorrow and the Pity" (PDF). 2000. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2018-11-03. Retrieved November 3, 2018.
  3. ^ Markham, James M. (October 2, 1988). "Marcel Ophuls on Barbie: Reopening Wounds of War". The New York Times. New York. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 19 August 2013.
  4. ^ Staff, Hollywood.com (2014-11-21). "Marcel Ophuls | Biography and Filmography | 1927". Hollywood.com. Archived from the original on 2022-03-19. Retrieved 2017-10-13.
  5. ^ "Berlinale Camera". Archived from the original on February 14, 2015. Retrieved 14 February 2015.
  6. ^ Mackey, Robert (December 10, 2014). "Marcel Ophuls, Director of 'The Sorrow and the Pity,' Wants to Tell Israelis Some 'Unpleasant Truths'". The New York Times. Retrieved November 3, 2018.
  7. ^ Avishay, Artsy (May 24, 2017). "Film festival to honor documentarian Marcel Ophuls'". The New York Times. Retrieved March 24, 2021.
  8. ^ About the spelling of "Ophuls" in Collection Cinéma d'Aujourd'hui, Claude Beylie, 1963
  9. ^ a b 10 great films about the Troubles, British Film Institute

External links[edit]