TIFF Review: ‘Labyrinth of Lies’

We all go to the movies for different reasons.

Sometimes I want something child-friendly for my Godson, sometimes something action-packed for a fun night out, or romantic for Girls Night. But every now and then I go to see a movie because it’s something more than a movie – it’s something that deserves to be seen.

And in my lifetime I have seen several such movies – movies like ‘Schindler’s List‘, ‘Shake Hands with the Devil‘, ‘The Pianist‘, and ‘The Green Mile‘.

And this year my opening movie for the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival is being added to my list of movies that mean something.

The first feature film by Italian director Giulio Ricciarelli, ‘Labyrinth of Lies (Im Labyrinth des Schweigens)‘ is set during a period of German history that we often overlook – a period where Holocaust deniers and cronyism tended to overshadow the horrific atrocities of the Second World War. Despite the heavily publicized Nuremberg Trials, to many Germans the names ‘Auschwitz’, ‘Bergen-Belsen’, and even ‘Dachau’ meant little or nothing.

20-years after the official end to the war and a large part of the horror is lost.

Alexander Fehling as Johann Radmann in 'Labyrinth of Lies.'
Alexander Fehling as Johann Radmann in ‘Labyrinth of Lies.’ (variety.com)

Cue our two heroes: one a naive, albeit young, prosecutor Johann Radmann (Alexander Fehling), the other a haunted journalist Thomas Gnielka (Andre Szymanski) who is determined to make the average Germans aware of the monsters who live amongst them.

And Gnielka intends to start with a former Auschwitz commander who now a primary school teacher. Gnielka starts by storming into the Attorney General’s offices in Frankfurt where he is systematically ignored, and faces derision from some of the older lawyers, before his pleas reach Radmann, who is determined to live his life in support of law and truth – doctrines passed to him by his father, a lawyer who has been missing since his German battalion was imprisoned in Russia following the war.

Despite his advanced education Radmann, who knew of Auschwitz only as an prison  camp, quickly finds that what he thought he knew about the Nazi’s fell woefully short of the mark. Through a series of interviews with camp survivors he, and his co-workers, are pulled deeper into an investigation that will wind up attempting to charge the over 8,000 Germans who worked at Auschwitz with murder – including the now infamous Dr. Josef Mengele.

The movie is dark and traumatic, and watching Radmann discover the secrets of those people around he thought he knew is heart-breaking. But it’s amazingly well-acted – in fact Fehling portrays Radmann in such an incredibly human way that he nearly steals the show from a cast that seems nearly perfect. But despite the pain the film is tinged with hope, and very much much a representation of what can happen when a good man stands up.

At times the movie is hard to watch because even now, more than 70 years later, the Nazi atrocities continue to horrify – but it’s a film that needs to be seen, and one you won’t soon forget.

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