Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Submitted by Germany: Labyrinth of Lies
Radmann is the sort of lawyer Hollywood loves—and they will have the chance to
do so, since Germany has selected his composite story as their official foreign
language Oscar submission. Radmann is young, idealistic, and somewhat rash. He
also has a pretty girlfriend and all the right enemies. Much to his colleagues’
dismay, the young public prosecutor starts building a murder case against the
8,000 Germans who worked at Auschwitz. Those events leading up to the Frankfurt
Auschwitz Trials are respectfully dramatized in Giulio Ricciarelli’s Labyrinth of Lies (trailer here), which opens this
Wednesday in New York.
appointed to the office of Prosecutor General Fritz Bauer, Radmann is such a
stickler for the law, he will not let an attractive traffic violator like
Marlene Wondrak off without the full mandated fine. Of course, since she is
broke, he will pay it for her. It is not exactly a meet-cute, but somehow it
will suffice. Fortunately, Radmann will also get a timely assist from crusading
journalist Thomas Gnielka.
Gnielka tried to make a scene in the prosecutor’s office to call attention to
the many National Socialist war criminals living openly in West German society.
Radmann was the only one listening. When he tries to follow-up on reports of a
concentration camp guard teaching high school, the road blocks thrown in his
way by officialdom serve as quite a wake-up call.
course, Radmann is not about to simply drop the matter, but he will have to get
more organized. By 1958, the statute of limitations had run out on all National
Socialist crimes except murder, so Radmann will have to tie the school teacher
and his former comrades to the actual mass murder at Auschwitz. Fortunately, he
will have the personal backing of the universally respected Bauer. In time, he
will uncover some potentially game-changing evidence, but his obsession with
capturing the notorious Josef Mengele threatens to distract him from more
winnable cases. No so surprisingly, the combined stress threatens to derail
Radmann’s once promising romance with Wondrak.
many ways, Labyrinth is a smart,
honest, and insightful film, but the decision to end it just as the Frankfurt
Auschwitz Trials begin is rather strange. The film thoroughly primes us for
some dramatic cross examinations and stirring closing statements, but then it
simply relates the outcome in an anti-climactic post-script text.
a number of sequences bristle with power, such as the wordless montage depicting
the overwhelming depositions given by Auschwitz survivors. Ricciarelli and
co-screenwriter Elisabeth Bartel make the depths of the older generations’
denial and the younger generations’ ignorance disturbingly clear. Unfortunately,
the serious business is too frequently interrupted by Radmann’s groan-worthy
is good that the Radmann character is believably flawed, but Alexander Fehling’s
portrayal never seems to grow in maturity or stature. However, he is surrounded
by some remarkably accomplished supporting work. The chameleon-like Johannes
Krisch (seen at TIFF in Jack) is
absolutely devastating as Simon Kirsch, the artist and Auschwitz survivor who inadvertently
set all the events in motion. André Szymanski is also charismatically
rebellious but credibly grounded as the real life Gnielka, while the late Gert
Voss personifies stately gravitas as Bauer.
Although the reality of the Holocaust is largely
accepted today in Germany and the rest of the West, Labyrinth still offers some eye-opening revelations when it
explains how closely Bauer coordinated with the Mossad during their campaign to
capture Eichmann. It is a well-intentioned period production that evocatively
conveys the look and atmosphere of the Adenauer “Economic Miracle” era West
Germany. However, some of its narrative choices are a little puzzling.
Nevertheless, its dramatic and historical merits are greater than the mild
assorted reservations it spawns (still, it cannot match the intensity and
artistry of Christian Petzold’s Phoenix,
which Germany passed over in favor of Labyrinth
as their Oscar contender this year). Recommended accordingly, Labyrinth of Lies opens this Wednesday
(9/30) in New York, at the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza.
Labels: German Cinema