Apparently—and this may be news to some of you—there was some trouble in Germany back in the middle of the 20th century. As The Boy likes to joke, “But then this guy called Hitler straightened everything out.”
We see a lot of WWII and Holocaust themed movies. A lot.
This year had been light so far, with only four: Unbroken, Above and Beyond, The Shop On Main Street revival and Phoenix. (Rosenwald was noteworthy for being a story about a Jewish philanthropist that barely mentioned those “German troubles”.) Even so, there’s always a new angle: The war and the Holocaust contained all of human nature, good and bad, so the stories are virtually infinite, and a cabal of Jewish financiers are making sure they continue to be told.
That sounds sort of sinister, and I’m sure it’s viewed that way amongst the anti-semitic crowd, but I think it’s a good and smart thing to do: To the limits of your power, make sure the world never forgets. (Sadly, from headlines, it seems as though the world is absolutely determined to do just that.)
Which dovetails quite neatly with this film, Labyrinth of Lies. I had not been aware that in Germany by 1958, the whole Holocaust thing had been swept under the rug. I have heard that the Japanese walk around wondering why the Chinese hate them and why America unleashed Godzilla upon them completely unprovoked, but I did not know that Germany was following the same path when a lawyer launched a trial against Germans who had worked in the camps.
That lawyer was, if I’m not mistaken, a crusty old lawyer named Fritz Bauer. He’s not in this film.
Instead, we have the tale of the young, idealistic (and entirely fictional) Johann Radmann whose righteous commitment to the law and justice leads him down a rabbit hole whereupon he realizes that virtually everyone older than he is was a Nazi.
This is good, taut thriller material. Radmann is a great metaphor for the collective consciousness of young postwar Germany, and by making the story fictional, they can put in all kinds of spills and thrills, and love stories, and stories of betrayal and corruption, that wouldn’t really exist in such a neat narrative form in real life.
Alexander Fehling (Erased, Inglorius Basterds) plays the lead convincingly with the lovely Friederike Becht (The Reader, Hannah Arendt) providing him a much needed anchor to sanity. The rest of the cast does admirably well, too, from Radmann’s secretary to his reluctant companion and crusty truth-seeking journalist pal, though I do not see enough German movies to have recognized them.
Truly fine score, editing, direction. Solid work all around. The Boy liked it, though not as much as I did. I’m always impressed by the ability some directors have to make a legal procedural exciting. Also, I favor stories about obsession.
I do wonder, though, just because it seems so surreal. At one point, Radmann is grilling random people if they know what Auschwitz is. They do not. Or they say “It’s a camp. The Russians, the Americans, the French, they all had them…” If it’s true, that Germany was on the verge of forgetting what had happened, than the actual heroism this movie fictionalizes is nothing short of astounding.
This film will probably end up in my top ten for the year.