Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Giulio Ricciarelli's LABYRINTH OF LIES: all about attitudes (and accepting responsibility)

Rounding up ex-Nazi war-criminals post-World War II and coming to terms with German guilt is not exactly a new subject in the film archive: We've probably had appear a dozen or more documentaries and narrative movies on these themes during our new millennium alone -- from The Good German and Hitler's Children to My Enemy's Enemy and The German Doctor. Few if any, however, have come directly from Germany to cover the subject of how and why those ex-Nazi war criminals who were allowed to flourish in Germany and elsewhere (the USA recruited a number of them, too) in the years immediately after WWII. Well, we've got that movie now.

LABYRINTH OF LIES, the first full-length film to be directed by Giulio Ricciarelli (shown at left, who also co-wrote), will win no awards for its filmmaking prowess. It's workmanlike and professional, consistently interesting if somewhat formulaic, and -- like its obsessive protagonist, Johann (played with monochromatic grit by Alexander Fehling, below, ) -- keeps its intentions clear and in its gun-sight from beginning to end. That said, Ricciarelli's movie pleasantly surprises now and again by what it does not show us. In one scene, in which a Holo-caust survivor is inter-viewed about his experi-ences in a concentration camp, instead of showing/telling us about these (we've heard so much by now, could anything else shock or move us?), the filmmaker cuts to after the interview and instead shows us a quietly moving and unsettling scene with the secretary/ stenographer (a fine Hansi Jochmann, below, right) who has just recorded all that was said.

Likewise, the opening scene of the film, set in what looks like a lovely middle-school full of happy students and concerned teachers, undercuts all with a surprising moment that sets the film and its plot off and running. For the following two full hours, we're pretty much hooked.

Ricciarelli, his co-writer and cast are most interested in opening eyes and minds in Germany and elsewhere as to why it was so important not to simply settle for the post-WWII Nuremberg trials (which condemned but a very few higher-ups of the Nazis). Instead the filmmaker wants to point out how many other of the German populace were guilty of war crimes, too. What happened in the concentration camps would not have, had not the rank-and-file so readily followed those criminal and inhumane orders. (As one character, recruited into the Hitler Youth as a teen, points out, he himself looked on at the horror without trying to stop it.)

As the Attorney General in change off the case points out, it's not the "big game" you must go after but the ordinary citizens. As played by the late Gert Voss, above, this character provides a much-needed grounding for both the movie and its increasingly over-the-top main character.

More grounding is provided by the young woman our hero falls for early on (Friederike Becht, above and below), who turns out to be every bit as savvy, if not quite so obsessive, as her man. A clothing designer, she helps get her guy (and us) out of the grim workplace and into the world.

More than anything, Labyrinth of Lies is concerned with the attitudes of everyday Germans, as well as the need for them to finally accept responsibility for their country's actions during WWII. Via this endeavor, the film speaks also to us here in the USA and what we've wrought by our unlawful, hugely costly (in lives and expense) and so far worthless middle-east wars -- for which the American people and their so-called "leaders" have yet to own up.

The film, successful in Europe, especially in Germany and France, managed to appeal to mainstream audiences. Here in North America, of course, it will be seen as "arthouse" fare -- which says something about the tastes and interests of our "mainstream," as against that of Europe.

Leavened with a little humor now and again ("It's not my car's fault," is probably the film's funniest line)  and the effective use of dream and fantasy, the movie is also smart about showing us the difficulties of a protagonist who can see only black and white, without those necessary gray shades that make up most of our lives.

Full of the look of the fashions, architecture and autos of the late 1950s, and especially effective when it subverts and surprises, Labyrinth of Lies -- from Sony Pictures Classics, in German with English subtitles --  opens here in South Florida this Friday, October 23, in the West Palm Beach area at Movies of Delray and Movies of Lake Worth and at  Boca Raton's  Living Room Theaters and Regal Shadowood. The following Friday, October 30, the film will open at Miami's Tower Theater.

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