Labyrinth of Lies (2014)
Holocaust stories from Schindler’s List (1993) to Son of Saul (2015) penetrate our emotional defences by dragging us right into the horror zone. In Labyrinth of Lies (2014) we are spared this entirely because the horror is of a different kind. The focus is on a nation in denial, desperate to block the collective memories of the generation responsible and prevent the following one from ever knowing. The historical timeframe depicted is critical to grasping the power of this story. Set in 1958 Germany, thirteen years after the war, the economy is booming but the nation’s older generation struggle with guilt and anger while the young have not even heard of Auschwitz. Produced in Germany, this film is an illuminating piece of the historical puzzle and part of a nation’s prolonged atonement.
The storyline is linear and uncomplicated. A journalist recognises a former Nazi commander of Auschwitz now working as a schoolteacher, but he cannot elicit any interest from public prosecutors. He befriends young lawyer Johann Radmann who processes parking fines but is desperate to take on serious cases. Despite ridicule from colleagues he is made lead investigator and gradually learns about the secret killing factories of Auschwitz. The labyrinth he encounters is one of silence and lies, as large numbers of public servants and others in positions of power were former members of the Nazi Party and many were morally complicit in Hitler’s Final Solution. Along the way, he becomes the obsessive hunter as the investigation keeps getting bigger until it is all-consuming. A romantic sub-story is awkwardly woven into the plot both to humanise Radmann and show the destructive impact that the investigation has on his life. The filming and sets convey the period with authenticity, and the directing is tight although the script is heavy. It takes almost the entire film to expose the full-scale truth, and the results of the investigations are dealt with swiftly as a cinematic necessity.
No doubt some people watch Holocaust films for entertainment, but many more do so searching for understanding of this extraordinary period of history. Labyrinth of Lies is important because it fills the gap between war’s end in 1945 and the world’s slow awakening to what happened at Auschwitz. In particular, it explains how the truth was kept from young Germans oblivious to what their parents did in the war and shows powerful hands on the blanket of silence. Like Spotlight (2015), the story starts by looking at the tip of an iceberg that grew until it overwhelmed a nation. It has an engaging thriller quality that is maintained to the very end.
Director: Giulio Ricciarelli
Stars: Andre Szymanski, Alexander Fehling, Friederike Becht