Screened Out – Labyrinth of Lies

By : Stephen Miller
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Andre Szymanski , Alexander Fehling, Fritz Bauer

It’s amazing to think that anyone could ignore the history of Auschwitz, where over 1.1 million people were exterminated. After the brutalities of WWII and the miraculous financial turnaround of the late 1950s, Germany wanted to do just that – forget. Ex-Nazis hung up their uniforms and quietly slipped back into civilian society. They and the rest of the country hoped that the past would stay in the past.

Labyrinth of Lies is an earnest German-language film about the investigations that brought famous Nazis out of hiding and to trial in the early 1960s. This time, Germans prosecuted Germans, ripping open old wounds.

Gert Voss plays prosecutor Fritz Bauer, a real-life hero who died recently. This film is dedicated to him.

Gert Voss plays Prosecutor General Fritz Bauer, a real-life hero. This film is dedicated to Bauer and the real people who prosecuted and investigated for the trails.

Italian actor Giulio Ricciarelli makes his directorial and scriptwriting debut with this stylish film. Labyrinth is as wholesome, old-fashioned, and forthright as any social film from 50 years ago; that is both it’s charm and its only flaw.

Fehling (Inglorious Basterds) is an ambitious, new lawyer with a strong moral compass. He hopes to make his mark in German courts with some case better than the traffic violations he’s been prosecuting. He meets an anarchic, crusading writer (Symanski) who shows him that a Nazi guard at Auschwitz has transitioned into teaching elementary schoolchildren. Fehling and his noble boss Fritz Bauer (Goss) battle prevailing wishes of the German people to bring the teacher and 21 others to justice.

Fehling’s character, Radmann, is a composite of three real-life German lawyers. That’s a small frustration of mine; I like when historic events try to avoid fictionalization. However, the cases he works and the words he says are a good composite of what actually happened.

As a film, Labyrinth takes full advantage of its late ‘50s and early ‘60s style. The wallpaper, furniture, costumes, music, and cars are all fun to see. Even the script feels like this could’ve been shot in the early ‘60s.

Alexander Fehling is led by actor-turned director Giulio Ricciarelli in his first major film.

Alexander Fehling is led by actor-turned director Giulio Ricciarelli in his first major film.

This leads us to the couple odd factors about Labyrinth. The first is that the movie seems so old school. There are some melodramatic, late plot twists. The overall acting is slightly arch and overly dramatic, including a tacked-on, fictional romance. As a performance, Fehling’s lawyer is the most approachable. His transition from blind ambition through frustration to a fiery commitment like Symanski’s is a great and entertaining journey.

A supremely weird choice for writer/director Ricciarelli and his cowriter Elizabeth Bartel is to keep almost everything – the acting, yes, but also the visual details – so clean and earnest. Almost no images of atrocities are seen; a religious choir on the soundtrack covers victim testimonies. A few grand speeches are spewed, but this movie lacks a modern sensibility. In essence, it doesn’t show all that a contemporary film could to bring its themes home.

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

The subject of public ignorance yet needs to be explored, and Labyrinth does that with dramatic panache. Germans wanted to sweep their national atrocities under the rug. They fought prosecution in bureaucratic and cultural ways, until they were forced to acknowledge their history. In that sense – as we still haven’t closed down Guantanamo Bay (with 115 prisoners still there), and we’re still committing crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq – this is a film Americans need to see.


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