LABYRINTH OF LIES (Im Labyrinth des Scheigens)
Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten for Shockya.  Databased on Rotten Tomatoes.
Grade: A-
Director:  Giulio Ricciarelli
Written by: Elisabeth Bartel, Giulio Ricciarelli
Cast: André Szymanski, Alexander Fehling, Gert Voss, Johannes Krisch, Friederike Becht, Hansi Jochmann, Johann von Bülow, Robert Hunger-Bühler
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 9/2/15
Opens:  September 30, 2015

Giulio Ricciarelli’s film “Labyrinth of Lies” brings to mind Arthur Miller’s equally melodramatic play, “All My Sons.”  In that latter work, sixty-year-old Joe Keller is guilty of shipping damaged aircraft cylinder heads to U.S. pilots during World War II, causing the deaths of twenty-one pilots.  Though Keller is exonerated, he ultimately commits suicide.  The playwright bludgeons the audience with the most melodramatic finale possible.   Similarly, we are told in “Labyrinth of Lies” that the guilty party is not one person but perhaps twenty-five percent of the German population, specifically members of the Nazi Party during and before World War II and, secretly, after the war as well.  But even those Germans who were not Party members are presumably guilty for working in the perverse interests of their country, even with such mundane tasks as performing clerical work that aided in the extermination of “non-Aryan enemies,” including not only Jews but also Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, Romanis and the disabled.

According to the director and co-writer Elisabeth Bartel, in the late fifties when Johann Radmann (Alexander Fehling)  in the role of a young, ambitious prosecutor, asks Germans from various walks of life what they know about Auschwitz, the standard answer is “nothing.”  This may be true since the German government at least in those early years since the war did what they could to cover up the Nazi crimes. (Today, by contrast, Germany confesses to the crimes, and in Berlin, you can even take a “Third Reich tour” which includes allowing tourists to stand directly above Hitler’s Bunker and which in one exhibit plasters the walls with news clippings about the era.)

All action centers on Fehling, an idealistic prosecutor who acts with rage throughout much of the two-hour narrative film, a fictional character who is really a composite of three prosecutors that actually lived at the time and who prosecuted the small fish who had taken part in atrocities during the war.  He is motivated when Simon Kirsch (Johannes Krisch), an Auschwitz survivor, accepts a light for his cigarette, dropping what he is carrying when he notes that the helpful school teacher with the match had been his tormentor when he was in the camps.  Radmann is furious that nobody appears to want to follow up, to charge the teacher with war crimes though he had been in the Waffen SS.  Visiting the U.S. Army Document Center, he sees proof that the public arena is filled with former Nazis who just wanted to return to peaceful lives and, of course, to avoid prosecution by their own country.  (What the film does not bring out is that although the U.S. had been interested in de-Nazification, in removing war criminals from their government posts, our government became more concerned with winning over the German people as our allies in the Cold War against the Soviet Union.)

Eventually, Radmann’s aim is to expose hundreds of ex-Nazis, most notably to make sure that the children of those involved in the crimes know what their fathers did during the war.  He does not excuse himself either, prepared to admit that his own father was a Nazi, and loses his girlfriend, Marlene (Friederike Becht) when he exposes her father as well.

The film is a crowd-pleaser, though one that operates with a heavy hand by throwing in a romance but not indulging in humor to lighten the ambiance.  Radmann might have been naïve, but ultimately his investigations lead to The Auschwitz Trial of 1963, in which a just a handful of small fish are found guilty, though all have since been freed.  Fehling could be seen in my vote for best movie of 2009 “Inglourious Bastards” in a relatively small role of Master Sergeant Wilhelm.  You cannot help noticing his “Mad Men” good looks, his granite-like face, his self-righteous delivery. The film is both an entertainment and an education, one which should be seen especially by youths around the world who know almost nothing of the period, though we’re pretty sure that German kids have been enlightened by units on the Holocaust in school and by public buildings in Berlin and outside housing a wealth of information about the infamous period.

Rated R.  124 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – A-
Overall – A-

Im Labyrinth

By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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