A vibrant cast tackles the dark period following WWII Germany in Giulio Ricciarelli’s “Labyrinth of Lies.” Starring Alexander Fehling as Johann Radmann, the young prosecutor who begins to question what really went on in camps like Auschwitz, “Labyrinth” asks the hard question of its nation, “Do you want every young man in this country to wonder whether his father was a murderer?” In the case of Johann and head Prosecutor General Fritz Bauer (Gert Voss), the answer is “yes.” One must look at the past to learn and move into the future.
Opening in 1958 in a Frankfurt schoolyard full of children singing an anthem, Germany seems like a nation well on its way to being spiritually recovered. But when a teacher from the yard walks over and offers an artist, Simon Kirsch (Johannes Krisch) a light for his cigarette, Simon trembles with fear. Simon recognizes the teacher for who he was in the war, a brutal guard at Auschwitz.
Thus sets in motion a series of events beginning with journalist Thomas Gnielka (Andre Szymanski) shouting for the prosecutors to file a complaint against the teacher. In post-WWII Germany, no member of the Waffeen SS in Auschwitz is allowed to teach in a state school. When young prosecutor Radmann hears this, he decides to investigate on his own – after all, it beats prosecuting people with traffic tickets (although on his first traffic case, Radmann meets his love, Marlene played by talented Friederike Becht).
Radmann’s co-workers are against digging into the past but not Head Prosecutor General Bauer. Bauer handpicks Radmann to lead the investigation getting help only from his colleague Otto and assistant, Erika. With the aid of the U.S. Army’s Document Center, Radmann sifts through endless files and ends up with a wealth of information; enough to call both Auschwitz victims and SS guards in for questioning.
Based on the true events leading up to The Frankfurt Trials, “Labyrinth of Lies” plays not like a sobering documentary, but more like a thrilling investigative narrative. A compilation of three real-life prosecutors, the heroic Radmann begins as a moral crime fighter, seeing the crimes he prosecutes in terms of black and white; guilty or not guilty. But as the story progresses, facts and emotions turn gray. His personal life and relationships are threatened. Still the big picture remains in focus; Germany must not hide from its past. It needs to prosecute its own war criminals in its own courts.
Although many remember the Nuremberg trials, less remember these later Auschwitz trials that Prosecutor General Fritz Bauer tried in 1963. (Both Bauer and journalist Thomas Gnielka are real figures.) Bringing these trials to light, “Labyrinth of Lies” is an interesting look back on a dark period of a country trying to regain its identity. Elizabeth Bartel and director Ricciarelli crafted a smart script for the film’s appealing cast. Overall, it’s a compelling, slick movie package in which Germany puts forward as its entry into the Foreign Language Oscar race. It should resonate with viewers – we should all be vigilant into looking into our pasts to teach our future generations.
“Labyrinth of Lies” is 123 minutes, Rated R and opens September 30 in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Royal Theatre.