Friday, March 26, 2010

On-Demand: Kevin MacDonald's MY ENEMY'S ENEMY tracks Klaus Barbie's South American sojourn

For anyone who didn't get enough of "The Butcher of Lyon" via Marcel Ophüls's nearly five-hour opus from 1988, Hotel Terminus, here comes MY ENEMY'S ENEMY, a consider-
ably shorter (85 minutes) exploration by Kevin Macdonald of Klaus Barbie's post-WWII time in South America, with specific rummaging into how our own government used and protected Barbie, despite our know-
ledge of his exter-
mination of French Jews.

Writer/director Macdonald (shown at right), who also directed State of Play and The Last King of Scotland, actually completed this smart, swift documentary in the year between those two movies, but it has taken until now for any distributor to step up to the plate.  Even so, the film is available only On-Demand at this point, via Sundance Selects, though one hopes a DVD is in the offing.

Via a number of talking heads, the filmmaker tracks Barbie's checkered early history (that's him in uniform at right), the behavior that led to his nickname of The Butcher of Lyon, and then digs into the history of the immediately-post-WWII years when M. Barbie worked for us and was stationed here in the USA.  When word of this began leaking, off he went to South America, setting up shop in Bolivia, where he remained for some years.

The meat of Macdonald's movie entails the Bolivia period, and damn fascinating it is -- from the people who knew and worked with the man, to the neo-Nazi camp he tried to set up in the Andes, to the surprise (to him, at least) extradition back to France, complete with weird stopover during which his Bolivian pilots had to be bribed to let their passenger go.

We witness the testimony of Bolivian unionists and a school teacher about Barbie's training of the right-wing Bolivian police (above) in the ways of torture; the dirty dealings of a number of people and countries during the time that France tried to get Barbie back in its clutches; and then the hue and cry during Klaus' trial, during which there were any number of protesters, agitating for the man's release.  One of these is asked why he claims that Barbie committed no crimes against humanity:  What about the deportation of all those Jews during the war?  The fellow gives his questioner a small but quite shocking smile, as though that fact could hardly be called a crime against humanity -- and suddenly Anti-Semitism is front and center all over again.

Macdonald's documentary brings up any number of important topics, first among them the responsibility of so many people and governments in allowing Nazi war criminals to prosper, post-war.   For those who know their history, even glancingly, there will be fewer surprises here, though even we need the occasional kick-in-the-pants reminder of why morality and justice still count for something -- less and less true though this may seem with each passing year.

You can find My Enemy's Enemy via Sundance Selects On-Demand, available from most major TV-reception providers. Click here for the where and how.

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