Labyrinth Of Lies


Reviewed by: Luke Shaw

Labyrinth Of Lies
"Labyrinth Of Lies is an interesting document of a very important piece of national history, but it fails to make it engaging."

Labyrinth of Lies is a film about shadows, more than the objects that cast them. It’s ironic then that the biggest takeaway I had was how flat the lighting and cinematography is. This isn’t a film that really demands being seen on the silver screen - in some ways it feels a little made for TV, but with the quality of a lot of high budget TV these days, that might be a bit of a misnomer. It’s troubling, because the message and core of Giulio Ricciarelli's first feature length film is an important one, but the technical chops are definitely a little rudimentary.

Set in the 1960s, it deals with the Federal Republic of Germany’s most famous trial ever - the Frankfurt Aschwitz Trials - an attempted prosecution of the SS officers who worked at Auschwitz. Alexander Fehling plays Johann Radmann, an idealistic young prosecutor with a promising future, whiling his time away working on minor traffic offences with an inscrutable sense of moral absoluteness, refusing to let even minor subversions of justice slide. The plot is spurned on as he gets mixed up with a volatile journalist eager to brush away the blinkers that Germany has fixed to itself, catalysed by an artist recognising a former Auschwitz officer working at a local school.

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Egged on by the reserved but driven Fritz Bauer (played to quiet perfection by Gert Voss) Radmann begins to pursue the purposefully obfuscated paper trail of war criminals, at turns incensed and winded by the revelations of past atrocities that the whole nation has turned a blind eye to. Fehling gets to play the steely eyed hero who goes through a typical personal crisis, and he does fairly well. There is a lot of grandstanding in the film that jars heavily with frequent comic moments - jokes about cars being innocent parties and the ineptitude of paper trails abound - and it takes a perfectly coiffed haircut and a knitted brow to bear the weight, which Fehling manages with aplomb.

Whilst the comedy can feel out of place, it works perfectly when Johann faces off against Tim Williams’ US officer in charge of all legal documents pertaining to the war. The way Williams blends Yank aphorisms with drawled German is both surreal, witty and a keenly observed realisation of an outsider’s viewpoint. The token romance plot doesn’t fare quite as well, especially when it ends in a dire metaphor about torn clothes unable to be fixed, and it feels entirely superfluous in a film with loftier concerns.

The primary shadow that leers over the flick is of Auschwitz and the tragedies committed therein, but closer to home, films like Spotlight loom large over it too. It was knocked back from an Oscar nomination and it’s easy to see why. Like Spotlight it manages to intensify what is essentially a tedious and dull process of reading documents and connecting the dots. It falls back on the typical tropes, such as the idle musings of close friends enlightening a weary protagonist, but fails to couch this in a robust plot that builds up easily followed lines of cause and effect. The main focus is on the Nazis' own Angel of Death, and Mengele looms over proceedings in his absence, but montages of Radmann arresting minor members of the SS become muddled and inconsequential.

Which isn’t to say there's a total lack of flair: there is a dream sequence towards the end that finally marries the emotional punch of the film with some visual verve, and the construction of a Sixties Germany feels accurate and comprehensive, but overall the film just feels flat. Trying to get into the mindset of a country that was in the process of denying the genocide is hard, and the film doesn’t particularly aid it. These events are too ubiquitous, and the uncovering isn’t as tightly woven as it perhaps could have been. Labyrinth Of Lies is an interesting document of a very important piece of national history, but it fails to make it engaging, which is a shame as all the components are here, they just don’t fit flushly together.

Reviewed on: 19 Feb 2016
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An idealistic attorney in post-war Germany faces public hostility as he tries to prosecute former members of the SS.

Director: Giulio Ricciarelli

Writer: Elisabeth Bartel, Giulio Ricciarelli, Amelie Syberberg

Starring: Alexander Fehling, André Szymanski, Friederike Becht

Year: 2014

Runtime: 124 minutes

Country: Germany


Glasgow 2016

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