Labyrinth of Lies
Starring Alexander Fehling, Friederike Becht, Hansi Jochmann, André Szymanski, Johannes Krisch
Just when you think you’ve seen every angle of World War II/Nazi/Concentration Camps put on screen Germany submits their foreign film selection for the Academy Awards 2016 and turns over a new rock. Labyrinth of Lies is the true story of a young ambitious prosecutor who aided the attorney general’s office of Frankfurt to remove the curtain of secrecy and immunity given to Nazi’s after the war. It’s the type of investigative film that is currently igniting the awards race in America alongside Spotlight and Truth. Labyrinth of Lies should be fascinating for anyone interested in history and showing how naïve many Germans were to the crimes committed in their country.
Johann Radmann (Fehling) is pulled off simple traffic violations to investigate and prosecute what he thinks is a handful of Nazi’s solders that have been embedded in society. His ambition tied with youth and lies being told to the German people, keep him underprepared for the truth as he digs deeper to understand this place called “Auschwitz”. “Do you think all the Nazi’s just vanished into thin air after the war ended,” local reporter Thomas Gnielka asks the prosecutor. Radmann comes to realize that family, people he works with, everyone was involved to some degree with the horrible acts. “Do you want every child to ask if their father was a murder,” is the sentiment offered up to Johann, “Yes!” he replies without hesitation.
The type of investigative film that is currently igniting the awards race
Labyrinth of Lies is presented in the same way the recent Ryan Reynolds / Helen Mirren film Woman is Gold, small time lawyer going up against the system. The big difference is what’s at stake, it’s hard to imagine that in 1958, Germany was so unaware of exactly what had happened. In one scene, reporter Gnielka asks random people on the street if they know what Auschwitz is, they all reply “no”; which works as a shock to the viewer. The performance from Fehling (Inglorious Bastards, Homeland) grows as he changes from the boy we first meet practicing a speech in a bathroom mirror to a young man whose reality is entirely changed through the most important case of his lifetime. Statements from law enforcement, “It was their duty,” dismissing the crimes of solders in the SS, will keep the viewer enraged and engaged as this story plays out.
Writer and director Giulio Ricciarelli does an excellent job at showing the variety of attitudes in Germany following the war. The supporting actors including Hansi Jochmann really add depth to this complicated and often painful drama. Whether intentional or not, the montage early on, showing the many survivors going on the record is much shorter than the later montage where the accused are interrogated. The film of course has a love story within the investigative discovery, and I would have liked to see more self-exploration from Johann rather than one scene where he tries to numb the pain with alcohol. The events here are presented in a very riveting way that’s both engaging and informative.
One of the year’s most explosive foreign films.