Troy Patterson
February 16, 2001 AT 05:00 AM EST

Profiles in courage — and also in delusion and bootlicking. In his 1971 documentary (here restored, resubtitled, and back in circulation after 15 years), Marcel Ophüls examined the surreal trauma of life during wartime. Honing in on the French city Clermont-Ferrand, the director chatted up everyone from SS veterans and Resistance fighters to shopkeepers and beauticians. The result is an epic of stirring nuances, an investigation that subverts the received wisdom about WW II even as it explores such poignant trivia as a then teenager’s take on the frustrations of dating in an occupied town. As Ophüls once said, ”I get paid for being compassionate about people.” And because his compassion was balanced by analytic ruthlessness about people’s motives, his movie is a masterpiece. A

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