“Labyrinth of Lies” (2014)
When terrible things happen, often a country will try to forget that it ever happened or rationalize that it wasn’t as bad as they first thought it was. It’s 1958 and Germany is still trying to recover from Hitler’s Nazi regime and a World War that they once again lost. After the war the Allies destroyed the Nazi system of government and installed a democracy in West Germany. With the Soviets right next door in East Germany, Germany became the center of the Cold War. Most Americans thought that the Soviet Union was the threat, and all thoughts about the Nazi’s and their atrocities should be buried in the past. All West Germany wants to do is survive, keep their fragile democracy alive and recover from the years of Nazi rule.
It’s under these conditions that a young, inexperienced and slightly naive attorney begins a journey from which he might not recover. Johann (Alexander Fehling) is just starting his career in the prosecutor’s office. He first appears as he practices his closing argument into the bathroom mirror. He is the low rung on the totem pole and gets the minor cases. One such case is a beautiful young woman (Friederike Becht) accused of a traffic violation. Johann insists that she pay the full fine, even though she tells the court she can only pay for a portion of the fine. To keep her out of jail, Johann pays the rest of the fine for her. She angrily vows to pay him back. They are destined to see each other again.
A newspaper reporter, Thomas Gnielka (Andre Szymanski) brings a survivor of Auschwitz, Simon Kirsch, to the prosecutor’s office to report that an officer of the camp is now teaching children at a nearby elementary school, a violation of the West German government policies. They are met with indifference until they talk with Johann. Johann knows nothing about Auschwitz, as most twentysomethings in Germany have never been told about the death camp. Johann does some research and realizes that Germany has chosen to sweep the Nazi atrocities under the rug. Johann decides to make it his mission to prosecute the men who were in command of the camp. However, other than a select few, including the Attorney General, most of the people he will encounter will resist helping him and just might destroy his career.
I liked this film during the first half of the movie, as Johann delves deeper and deeper into a part of Germany’s history that no one talks about. His horror discovering so many people were killed so casually in the concentration camps hits home, and we feel his pain as he realizes that people he knows were involved with the camps in one way or another. The film starts to break down as Johann lets the pressure and the sadness get to him, and he starts breaking off relationships with everyone he knows, including his fiancé. The film seems to be adding filler that isn’t needed. There are some dream sequences where he roams the halls of Auschwitz that just doesn’t work, making the scenes seem out of place.
Fehling is a good fit for the slightly rigged Johann. Johann sees the world in black or white, right or wrong, and Fehling brings this to the screen, as his indignation is on display for all to see. Feeling has a charisma on the screen that makes his character instantly likable, and you can see why his character starts to persuade some of his colleagues to join him in his fight for justice. Some of the supporting cast stands out, including Szymanski doing a fine turn as the hard-headed reporter and Gert Voss as the world-weary Attorney General, who sees something in Johann, believing he is the man for the job. I didn’t like the performance of Friederike Becht but that maybe due to her character because the eventual fiancée of Johann is just constantly annoying.
This film has been picked by Germany to be their submission to the category of Best Foreign-Language Film at the Academy Awards; I am sure it impacts Germans much harder than it did me, as I wanted more emotional impact from the film. Good performances offset a script that bogs down in the second half. If the movie could have held the excitement and the pace of the first half of the film, I would have enjoyed it more. My Rating: Bargain Matinee
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
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