Director Giulio Ricciarelli Starring Alexander Fehling Friederike Becht André Szymanski Gert Voss
Every time a film is made about the holocaust I become an emotional wreck. I’m not entirely sure why; this is a narrative that has been a part of our mainstream cultural stories for decades and yet it is still just as painful in 2016 as it ever was.
This German film presented a very stylish take on what is plainly a brutal topic, looking at the arrest and prosecution of over 20 men who facilitated The Final Solution at Auschwitz – the first time a country ever tried its own citizens for crimes committed in a war. Johann Radmann (Alexander Fehling), a young public prosecutor keen to prove himself, takes the case, although knowing very little about Auschwitz or what happened there. As he learns more he discovers the systematic covering up of concentration camp life and is determined to expose the horrors to all of Germany, putting these evil ‘baddies’ away. Predictably, it is his naive black and white view of the world that constitutes his fall from grace, but which ultimately brings him down to earth and achieves an equilibrium that, by the end, the entire audience was waiting for.
Actor-turned-director Giulio Ricciarelli illuminates a largely unknown chapter of German history. He tackles the subject of overcoming grief in a way that allows his main character to, bit by bit, process the horror of what is happening, which in turn dominoes to those around him. Many in Germany at the time were against the trial, believing that it was opening wounds that were just starting to heal (which the film pointedly addresses again and again).
I understand this is “based on a true story” and, granted, I don’t know with concrete certainty the historical events. But in terms of being a good film, there just weren’t enough obstacles faced, enough to resist, or even any peril. It was very clear from the start of the film what was going to happen, and this predictability path never wavered. A fictionalised account (as this was) would have had the creative capacity to throw a couple of spanners in the works for narrative excitement. I suppose this film was intending to illuminate the fact that lots of very ‘normal’ men committed atrocities during the war and very few of them were ever made to say sorry, but what it failed to do was examine why. What psychologically happened to these men to make them believe their actions were ok?
This story – this trial – is more interesting than what we’re presented with. LABYRINTH OF LIES gets lost in its own intentions. Is this a personal story, about one or two people? Or is it a grandiose legal drama intent on taking down the whole system? This misguidance is ultimately the film’s let down.