“Labyrinth of Lies” (Germany)
Directed by Giulio Ricciarelli
The wonderful and engaging “Labyrinth of Lies” is really two films: A historical document outlining the manner in which most Germans learned of the true nature of the camps – over fifteen years after the War had ended; and a procedural, detailing the State’s Attorneys case against those who were the literal perpetrators of the crimes in these camps. While it succeeds more successfully as the latter, it nonetheless educates quite well as the former.
It has been placed in the pantheon of Holocaust movies because of its subject matter. But it’s really a “Post-Holocaust” film, detailing the shift from a country of denial to a country of guilt and acceptance. And while I’m quite certain our response and interpretation is quite different than it would be for today’s German audience, I was, nonetheless, greatly affected by the individual portrayals of avoidance, recognition, horror, and the overall post-war attempts to redefine the country.
But it’s as an investigative thriller that it really excels. And for many reasons, not the least of which are it’s stakes…the highest stakes ever for Post War Germany. The three act structure is taught, believable, personal to the characters and ultimately comes to a satisfying conclusion. And it is beautifully shot in the same hyper-real palette that graces so many other films about pre-unification Germany…the greatest of which is “The Lives of Others”.
The acting is universally superb (as much as I can know, since I don’t speak German). Our eyes and ears belong to a young attorney trying to make a name for himself – portrayed with a full range of emotions by the mesmerizing, and uber German-looking, Alexander Fehling. The supporting cast is highlighted by Andre Szymanski, as his partner in exploration, and the fantastic Gert Voss, in what I believe was his last role before passing away last year. But the most affecting moment in the entire film belongs to the secretary at the State’s Attorneys office, played with miraculous reality by Hansi Jochmann. It is a brilliantly crafted scene that leads us in to the second act. It lasts all of twenty seconds, but without her performance, the rest of the film would never succeed.
Kudos to Niki Reiser for a lovely score. Somber, but not morose, and beautifully orchestrated, it stands on its own quite well, not just in context.
I described “Labyrinth of Lies” to someone as “Law and Order Meets the Shoah,” but not to be a smart-alec. It really is the best way to sum up the hybrid nature of a very successful and important film that both educates with great emotion and is a really successful investigative drama.
As a side note, however, I must add that I don’t understand how it made the final cut of nine films for Foreign Language Oscar consideration. It simply does not meet the ridiculously high standards of films that were left off that list, like “Le Club” and “The Assassin”. I can only assume that since it had a nationwide release in October, the nominating committee members were all able to see it. Regardless, that personal misgiving should in no way inhibit your decision to seek it out.