Alexander Fehling as Johann Radmann


DIRECTOR: Giulio Ricciarelli

CAST: Alexander Fehling, André Szymanski, Gert Vos, Friedericke Becht, Johannes Krisch, Johan von Bülow, Robert Hunger-Bühler


RUNNING TIME: 122 minutes

RATING: 3 stars (out of 5)



The German film, Labyrinth of Lies, opens in 1958 as a young prosecutor is throwing the book at a woman who committed a traffic violation. The lady can’t pay the full fine, so the judge suggests reducing the penalty. But the prosecutor isn’t hearing it: the law’s the law, he reasons, and criminals must suffer the consequences.The scrupulous Johann (Fehling) seems a little naive, but he won’t be for long.

That same day, journalist Thomas Gnielka (Szymanski) storms into the prosecutor’s office with Simon (Krisch), an Auschwitz survivor who has recognised a neighbourhood teacher as a brutal SS guard. While other prosecutors turn away from the case, Johann, desperate for a meaty assignment, is intrigued. But he can’t quite grasp the significance of the situation. Wasn’t Auschwitz a “protective custody camp,” he asks Thomas.

He’s not alone. In postwar Germany, young people were shielded from the atrocities carried out by their parents, neighbours and bosses. It seems stranger than fiction that such crimes against humanity could be systematically buried, but the movie is based on a true story.

Johann – who starts asking questions after hearing Simon’s story – is a fictional composite of three prosecutors who worked for attorney general Fritz Bauer (Voss) to bring Nazis to justice during the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials of the 1960s.

In the film, Johann is blocked at every turn. The statute of limitations has run out for Nazi crimes, with the exception of murder. His associates were either Nazis themselves or they preferred to remain willfuly ignorant of the barbarity. And the entire system is controlled by a government filled with former Nazi party members. But Johann won’t be dissuaded.

The more he learns, the more obsessed he becomes with getting justice. After hearing so many sickening stories, he sees everyone as a potential suspect.

Labyrinth of Lies, Germany’s submission for the Academy Awards, is the directorial debut of Ricciarelli. The story, written by Ricciarelli, Elisabeth Bartel and Amelie Syberberg, is certainly worthy, but the movie’s methods aren’t always sound. Nearly every scene is marred by an occasionally maudlin score by Sebastian Pille and Niki Reiser. That being said, sometimes it works, as when Johann is interviewing Holocaust survivors and, rather than hear so many devastating accounts, we only see their pained expressions as the music plays.The movie also has a tendency toward cliches, whether it’s Johann’s fledgling relationship with that pretty traffic violator or the way he turns to alcohol in his misery, stumbling through the streets of Frankfurt late at night asking every passerby: “Were you a Nazi?”

Nevertheless, Labyrinth of Lies is an eye-opening story about the importance of seeking the truth – even when it’s complicated, ugly and buried beneath years of secrecy and deceit. – The Washington PostIf you liked The Lives of Others or Secret in their Eyes (2009), then you will like this.