Film Review: Labyrinth of Lies (★★★)

labyrinthIt’s hard to believe now, but in the aftermath of the atrocities committed at Auschwitz, there were many Germans who were still ignorant of the harsh truth. Exacerbated by the efforts of public officials who wanted to conceal their own complicity in the Nazi regime, these dark secrets were kept hidden away. But the past can come back to haunt you, as is the case in the aptly titled Labyrinth of Lies, a fascinating account of a young public prosecutor’s courageous pursuit of justice.

Labyrinth of Lies takes place in Frankfurt, in 1958. It was a time of optimism, as the German economy was flourishing during this peak period of the Reconstruction. The Holocaust seems almost to be a distant memory, except for those who really know the truth. One of those persons is Johann Radmann (Alexander Fehling), a public prosecutor at the beginning of his law career. One day however, Radmann is tipped off that a former Auschwitz guard is now working freely as a schoolteacher, having received no trial for his crimes. When he starts to investigate however, he starts to realize that this is only the tip of the iceberg. He uncovers a web of lies and denial, which allows many high profile Hitler accomplices to roam free. With the help of the equally determined Prosecutor General Fritz Bauer (Gert Voss) however, Radmann fights to bring forth the most important case of both his life and his homeland.

What makes this latest World War II-related drama compelling is the way director Giulio Ricciarelli frames Radmann’s investigation as a war of its own. Throughout his embattled search, our hero comes up against constant obstacles – bureaucratic inefficiency, antagonistic perpetrators and fellow law enforcers alike, and stacks of documented evidence piled up ceiling-high. As the events unfold, Ricciarelli makes a strong first impression in his debut outing as a director, delivering a palpable sense of urgency. Tightly paced and thoroughly engaging, he incorporates all the best elements of a political thriller and courtroom drama, including a far-reaching conspiracy that is truly startling and a “justice against all odds” premise to get you invested in the main character and his story.

Indeed, the film keeps you entertained from start to finish, while also delving into some of the important questions facing Germany at the time. Most notably, Radmann becomes confronted (by others and eventually, himself) with the question of whether to forget about the past and move on. But Ricciarelli keeps the narrative focused, always returning to the core concern – the victims whose stories should not be forgotten. And in that regard, he gives this driving force an indelible human face, through Johannes Krisch’s mournful performance as Simon Kirsch, a Jewish man who survived Auschwitz.
Im Labyrinth
It would be easy to dismiss Labyrinth of Lies as just another Holocaust movie, and admittedly, it’s revelations are hardly incendiary by this point. But the film stands out in its own right, with a glossy sheen to its cinematography, costumes and production design to make it an appealingly handsome production. And most handsome of all is its star Alexander Fehling, who infuses charisma into a character written to be rigidly clean-cut. His screen presence is undeniable. Indeed, you can certainly do worse than to gaze upon Labyrinth of Lies, a well-made historical drama that captivates the eyes and the heart.

Labyrinth of Lies will be released in select theaters on September 30, 2015.

Labyrinth of Lies is the German submission for the 2015 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Click here for reviews of other official submissions.