Monday, October 12, 2015

Labyrinth of Lies (orig. Im Labyrinth des Schweigens) [2014]

MPAA (R)  ChicagoTribune (4 Stars) (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (4+ Stars)

IMDb listing listing*

Der Spiegel (K. Heinrich) review*
Die Zeit  (L. Greven) review*
Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung (A. Haneke) review / coverage*

Hollywood Reporter (B. von Hoeij) review
Slant Magazine (O. Ivanov) review  
Variety (J. Leydon) review

Chicago Tribune (K. Walsh) review (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (B. Mercer) review

Labyrinth of Lies (orig. Im Labyrinth des Schweigens) [2014] [IMDb] []* (directed by Giulio Ricciarelli [IMDb] []*, screenplay by Elisabeth Bartel [IMDb] []* and Giulio Ricciarelli [IMDb] []*, screen story by Elisabeth Bartel [IMDb] []*, with collaboration by Amelie Syberberg [IMDb]) is Germany's submission for Best Foreign Language Film to the 2015 (88th Annual) Academy Awards.

It tells the story of the 1963 Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials [en.wikip] (Die Auschwitzprozesse) [de.wikip].*

Today it would seem _hard to believe_ that people ANYWHERE (both inside / outside of Germany/Austria) would not know of the horrors that took place in Auschwitz during World War II.  Yet in the late 1950s, West Germany -- SO HAPPY even TRULY SURPRISED that it was getting back on its feet (with assistance of its former enemies on the West) and SO GRATEFUL that it was NOT being _crushingly punished_ by them (as it had been, perhaps then unfairly, after World War I) -- was TRYING REALLY HARD to put "the Past" behind it.  So in W. Germany "the young" really didn't know what their dads and grand-dads did "during the War," and "the old" (said dads / grand dads) REALLY DIDN'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT.

Yet, even as West Germany was trying, desperately, to become "a normal country" HOW DOES ONE DO THAT WITHOUT CONFRONTING SAID PAST?  That is then what this film is about.

A seemingly random incident in 1958 sets the story in motion:  Simon Kirsch (played by Johannes Krisch [IMDb] []*), lifelong Frankfurt residing (except when he, Jewish, was deported with all his family to Auschwitz...) artist, one fine day, ran into a high school teacher who he immediately recognized as Alois Schultz (played by Hartmut Volle [IMDb]), a former SS-guard.  Herr Schultz was doing, there on the play ground, what he had been doing in Auschwitz, dividing his charges (now a class of somewhat bored eye-rolling teenagers... instead of ...) into ... groups.  Disturbed by what he inadvertently had seen, Simon tells the story to a 30-something crusading journalist Thomas Gnielka [de.wikip]* (played in the film by André Szymanski [IMDb] []*) who writes a scathing article about it: How is it that 13 years after the War, a former Waffen SS-man was TEACHING at a GERMAN PUBLIC SCHOOL?  This was against the post-War Germany's Denazification Laws, wasn't it?

Well, when Gnielka, his crisp/scathing article in hand, goes over to Frankfurt's Prosecutor's office demanding that something be done, he's ridiculed: "Oh, you found a former two-bit Nazi working in a two-bit public service job, AND ..."

But he does catch the attention of a young junior prosecutor (fictionalized) named Johann Radmann (played by Alexander Fehling [IMDb] []*), who tired of being assigned to "traffic court" cases, decides to check Kirsch / Gnielka's story out.  It wasn't easy.  Frankfurt's archives didn't seem to have a lot of Nazi Era files ... and he's directed to "go to the Americans."

When he gets there, presumably the giant Rhine-Main Airbase outside of town, U.S. Military Archivist Major Parker (played by Tim Williams [IMDb]) laughs at him as well: "Oh, you're looking for a Nazi.  You were ALL NAZIS.  Then after the War NONE OF YOU WERE NAZIS.  And now IN THE EAST, YOU'RE ALL COMMUNISTS.  Just let it go, and pretend like everybody else here that you're now a DEMOCRAT and you'll make everybody happy ..."  "But we weren't ALL Nazis" "Oh, yes you were, EVERY LAST ONE OF YOU." "My DAD WASN'T A NAZI." "If that's what you believe, fine, suit yourself, but you _really were_ ALL NAZIS.  But, okay, what is it that you want?   Ah yes, what specific Nazi do you want to look up...?"

Well young, driven, still quite naive Johann Radmann looks up his Nazi, Alois Schultz, and finds, that yes, the story checks out.  He really was part of the Waffen SS and he really spent time as a guard at a camp called Auschwitz.

Now at the time AUSCHWITZ rang no bell for him.  Indeed, he was reminded by one of his 50 y/o superiors at the Frankfurt Prosecutor's Office that he himself, after "distinguishing himself in the U-boat fleet" during the War "spent a year after the War in a French concentration camp" before being sent back to Germany, adding dismissively, "Don't tell my wife this, but the food there was better than hers ..."  Indeed, Radmann's (sainted "non-Nazi") dad was "15 years missing from the Russian Front" and would have PRESUMABLY BEEN AT LEAST INITIALLY HELD in some Soviet concentration camp (gulag...) as well.

So ... Auschwitz, what's in a name? ... Well Radmann soon finds out.  Why?  Well DESPITE THE SARCASM and LACK OF SUPPORT on the part of all kinds of his colleagues and minor superiors, he catches the eye of Frankfurt's Attorney General / Chief Prosecutor Fritz Bauer [en.wikip] [de.wikip]* (played in the film by Gert Voss [IMDb]) who, perhaps since Radmann was so young (and hence "clean"), saw him as someone who could pursue the case.

The German reviews that I cite above note that though Radmann was fictionalized, THE REAL  Fritz Bauer [en.wikip] [de.wikip]* REALLY DID ENLIST YOUNG PROSECUTORS -- perhaps in Capone Era Eliot Ness / "Untouchables" [wikip] [IMDb] fashion -- to pursue this case that expanded into the 1960s era Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials [en.wikip] (Die Auschwitzprozesse) [de.wikip].*

Much ensued ... including a sizable side-plot of trying to capture / bring to trial Joseph Mengele, who did, in fact, get away.  But a lot of the "smaller fish" did not.  And this changed forever the way Germans came to understand the war. 

So then ... had the Germans ALL been Nazis as the American major told the young Johann Radmann at the beginning of his journey into his country's Nazi past?  Folks, this is a remarkable film and ONE THAT GERMANY OF TODAY CAN HONESTLY BE PROUD OF.   Honestly, this is one heck of a film.

* Reasonably good (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser. 

<< NOTE - Do you like what you've been reading here?  If you do then consider giving a small donation to this Blog (sugg. $6 _non-recurring_) _every so often_ to continue/further its operation.  To donate just CLICK HERE.  Thank you! :-) >>

No comments:

Post a Comment