In the constant search for groundbreaking cinema, it is easy to forget that sometimes a story works best in a classic setting. Take the auspicious Labyrinth of Lies for example. Giulio Ricciarelli’s feature-film debut crackles in a way that only an old-fashioned procedural can. In the crowded field of World War II related dramas, which grows larger every year, it is a testament to Ricciarelli’s filmmaking that Labyrinth of Lies works as well as it does.
Approaching the atrocities of holocaust from a rather intriguing angle, Ricciarelli’s film explores how easy it is for a society to forget its horrific past. He not only documents the willingness to sweep painful memories under a massive rug woven of lies, but also the fear of acknowledging that such a rug exists. The most haunting aspect of it all is the relatively short span of time in which such actions can take place.
Set in 1958 Frankfurt, the plot involves a young prosecutor, Johann Radmann (Inglourious Basterds’ Alexander Fehling), who has more ambitious goals than the current caseload of traffic violations his firm has saddled him with. Opportunity unexpectedly arises for Radmann in the form of a local journalist, Thomas Gneilka (André Szymanski), who demands that someone looks into his friend’s, Simon Kirsch (Johannes Krisch), accusations. An artist and Auschwitz survivor, Kirsch claims that he has seen a former Nazi teaching at a local school. Unfortunately no one is willing to take Krisch’s case, opting instead to let past remain in Germany’s rear-view.
Eager to make a name for himself, or at least work on something different, Radmann takes it upon himself to do a little investigating. Unprepared for what he finds, and how deep the cover up goes, Radmann discovers that thousands of Nazis simply went back to ordinary life after the war ended. Furthermore, he must deal with the possibility that his relatives, and the relatives of the individuals close to him, may have been former Nazis as well.
Labyrinth of Lies raises several compelling questions regarding society’s role in the telling of history. One of the more startling things that Ricciarelli’s film touches on early is the lack of education that Radmann’s generation received regarding what actually occurred at Auschwitz. The little bit of documented history on Auschwitz that remained indicated it was nothing more than a regular detainment camp. It took a dedicated pursuit for the truth to finally break the sheltered glass bubble of ignorance that the older generation was attempting to keep intact for younger generations.
The fact that such heinous events can be collectively erased by a nation is chilling.
With its Germans hunting Germans energetic feel, Labyrinth of Lies effectively captures the guilt and shame prevalent during an era where Germany was in denial of their war crimes. Alexander Fehling gives a stirring performance as the young idealistic Radmann who becomes obsessed with bringing down the monsters of history. Radmann is a man whose enormous ego only serves to show how naïve he really is. Through exposing this weakness in his main character, Giulio Ricciarelli is able to craft a film that can only be described as a crowd-pleaser.
Despite its conventional moments, such as most of the scenes involving love interest Marlene (Friederike Becht) and when Radmann temporarily steps away from the case, there is much to enjoy in this captivating melodrama. Picking away at a scab that can never truly be healed, Labyrinth of Lies forces audiences to contemplate what does the average person know, and what they choose to ignore, in times of widespread atrocities? It is a question that, despite the film’s old-fashioned feel, is extremely relevant today.
Similar to a great novel that one does not want to put down, Labyrinth of Lies is a film that keeps the audience hooked up to the very end. Filled with solid performances and timely themes, it is hard not to get swept up in the thrill of this historical hunt.