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Issue No. 18 - Humanity

LABYRINTH OF LIES (2014) GIULIO RICCIARELLI

LABYRINTH OF LIES (2014) GIULIO RICCIARELLI

Image above: Courtesy of Sony Classics.

Image above: Courtesy of Sony Classics.

To the extent that many Americans are in denial about our dirty little history of slavery and Jim Crow, it would seem that the German populace fell victim to that same malaise of collective amnesia after WWII and the Nuremberg Trials. Ten years later in 1958 a young idealistic lawyer, Johann Radmann (Alexander Fehling), working in Frankfurt in the state prosecutors office doing research on a single ex-Nazi discovers, to his amazement and disbelief, that there are dozens or possibly hundreds of ex-Nazis who had been actively involved in the atrocities at Auschwitz and are now living and working in and around Frankfurt with total impunity.

Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 10.45.58 AM
Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 10.45.58 AM
Image above: Courtesy of Sony Classics.

The willingness of most Germans to put the war and its horrors behind them and begin anew without any more backward-looking, soul-searching, confessions and reparations is understandable since history is written by the victors. As young Radmann discovers, nearly everyone knows or is related to someone who was a Nazi or, at the very least, a collaborator and no one wants to open that chapter again. But Radmann is intrepid and willing to take on the job of bringing as many of them as possible to justice and he is put in charge of the task. It practically engulfs him as he delves deep into the dark and murky past for the next 5 1/2 years. His work culminates in the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials which go on from 1963 to 1965. Only twenty two convictions were attained in the end. Still, it was a small triumph of sorts.

Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 10.44.41 AM
Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 10.44.41 AM
Image above: Courtesy of Sony Classics.

This fact-based fictionalized version of the story unfolds in a pretty gripping fashion and Alexander Fehling’s Radmann is very earnest, appealing and easy on the eye as we watch his commitment intensify as his naivete drains away. He finds only one ally willing to help him - the journalist Thomas Gnielka (Andre Szymanski) who functions as a sort of prod and sidekick when the obstacles threaten to derail the momentum. There is a charming, yet lightweight romantic side story, which only goes a short distance toward enhancing the main point of the story line. There is a surreal scene where Johann and Thomas visit Auschwitz and, viewed from the outside in the quiet countryside, it looks like an eery abandoned campus surrounded by barbed wire. Also used is some hauntingly beautiful Jewish religious music. The period details and cinematograhy are stylish and polished.

Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 10.58.55 AM
Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 10.58.55 AM
Image above: Courtesy of Sony Classics.

The end result is somewhat ambiguous and raises philosophical questions. Should (or could) all of the thousands who took part in the Nazi extermination facility be tried and convicted? Or is it enough to just punish the most heinous? When is it finally time for everyone to move forward? Isn’t the single-minded push to mete out absolute justice to every last perpetrator finally counterproductive after a certain amount of time has passed? Doesn’t it just prolong the agony? I guess what the film ultimately does is make sure that the next generation does not forget. To that end, it is a job well done.

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