(Marcel Ophüls, UK/US/France/West Germany 1976, 278 min., DCP, French w/subtitles)
Memory and Forgetting. “We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants today is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow.”
These words, spoken at the outset of the Nuremburg trials on November 21, 1945, by US Chief of Counsel Robert H. Jackson, seem to animate Marcel Ophüls’s stunning 1976 documentary The Memory of Justice. Though the film project was initially prompted by Ophüls’s obtaining unprecedented access to fifty hours of raw footage of the trials, its scope ultimately expanded far beyond World War II and its immediate aftermath. As The Memory of Justice takes stock of the crimes committed by the Nazis, it also turns its attention to other atrocities, including the massacre at My Lai and the French torture prisons in Algiers. In gathering such events into the same historical montage, Ophüls never suggests an equivalence between these diverse phenomena. Instead, they provide a sobering backdrop for the film’s larger investigation into the mechanics of violence, guilt, and justice in the twentieth century.
Ophüls, an Oscar winner whose films (including The Sorrow and the Pity, Hôtel Terminus) are among the most highly acclaimed documentaries of all time, today claims The Memory of Justice as his greatest cinematic achievement.
Introduced by Ryan Conrath, Visiting Assistant Professor of Cinema Studies at Oberlin College.
Restored by the Academy Film Archive in association with Paramount Pictures and The Film Foundation. Restoration funding provided by the Material World Charitable Foundation, Righteous Persons Foundation, and The Film Foundation.
Presented in collaboration with the University of Rochester Humanities Center as part of its series on "Memory and Forgetting."