Thursday, January 14, 2016

Labyrinth of Lies (2015)

Film: Labyrinth of Lies (2015)
Stars: Alexandre Fehling, Johannes Krisch, Friederike Becht, Gert Voss, Andre Szymanski
Director: Giulio Ricciarelli
Oscar History: It was shortlisted, but couldn't convert into an actual nomination.
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

There may be no event more cinematically chronicled in the past 25 years than the leadup to, events of, and aftermath to the Holocaust.  Seriously-there have been dozens of films about the despicable acts of that era, and man have they won a lot of Oscars.  Schindler's List, The Pianist, The Reader-films about the Holocaust have been nominated in almost every major category at the Oscars, particularly Foreign Language film.  As a result, it wasn't a surprise to me that Labyrinth of Lies was shortlisted as a nominee for the category (we'll find out in a few months if this leads to Germany's first nomination since 2009 considering they keep making the shortlist but missing the actual finalist lineup), but I was surprised during the film by some of the history afterward, as the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials were not something that I was particularly familiar with, and the denial of the Holocaust during that era was something that I was also a bit blind to as well.

(Real life doesn't have spoilers) The film itself, therefore, takes on a bit of a history lesson and meant a bit of a Wikipedia dive last night, as the best biopics or historical films tend to do.  Unfortunately, this was due more to my lack of knowledge than anything great on behalf of the film.  The movie is interesting, and should be pretty compelling in the States because the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials aren't as well-known as the Nuremberg Trials and their details are going to be more of a discovery rather than something that feels like a history lesson.  Unfortunately Labyrinth of Lies spends far too much time on a lesson of history we do know, that of the pursuit of Josef Mengele, who was famously never brought to justice.  This constant pursuit of Mengele, which we know will be fruitless distracts for the bulk of the film and we end up with a movie whose middle feels a bit lacking in "what happens next," even by historical film standards.

It doesn't help that the film's central figure Johann Radmann (Fehling) is pretty much the definition of a boring hero.  Fehling himself looks the part of handsome and dashing as a straight-edged prosecutor (and yes, he was in Inglourious Basterds if you're trying to place the face), but he can't really find any nuance in the character.  We understand early on that this is a man with an unfliching heart in terms of justice, which will serve him well as the film progresses, but the character doesn't really grow throughout the film.  Honestly-there's no change in his persona, and while he gets to fall in love and then find some personal discoveries his entire demeanor remains unflinching, a clouded window into nothing.  He honestly stays simply a pretty face-there's a scene where he's sitting in a window sill looking so perfect that you feel like we've entered Bulfinch's Mythology, but the reality is he stays there, completely out of scope from the rest of the movie and lacking any sort of nuance or understanding of the importance of what he's doing.

It's hard to get into a film when the main character is infuriating and acts with such reckless abandon (La Vie en Rose is a similar situation, in my opinion) while you're still expected to relate to him, and Labyrinth of Lies doesn't provide a lot of other avenues to care about as anything other than an historical lesson.  Most of the characters feel like cookie-cutter versions of human beings, two-dimensional and either all-good or all-bad.  This is unfortunate for a film and a trial that set out to try and prove that far more people were guilty of the Holocaust happening than society was willing to admit.  The Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials would be considered a failure by the Attorney General at the time, who wanted a more open-ended indictment on the German people for allowing this to happen.  The fact that this film never really acknowledges the complexity of human behavior and the devastating consequences of doing nothing feels like a missed opportunity, and unlike Schindler, Pianist, and Reader I didn't leave the movie feeling like I had seen something moving or historically-significant, but instead a paint-by-numbers approach to an untold story of the Holocaust.

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