Ich bin erschrocken! One brave German navigates the labyrinth of Nazi cover-ups, searching for truth, justice, and a better script…
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
The Second World War may have been long over by 1958, but its shadow still loomed over Germany, a nation doing its best to bury its crimes against humanity. Former Nazis have quietly stepped back and integrated themselves as regular members of everyday society, covering their tracks and dodging comeuppance for their heinous acts committed under Hitler’s reign. That is, until journalist Johann Radmann (Alexander Fehling) takes interest in a case no one else is brave enough to touch – an investigation into a West Berlin school teacher identified as a former Auschwitz death camp leader. In the process, Radmann unwittingly exposes a government-controlled system put in place for former Nazis to protect each other, and vows to stop at nothing until justice is served for all criminals of war.
With Labyrinth of Lies, director Giulio Ricciarelli amazingly manages to pry another fresh, untold tale out of the World War II history books; an event apparently not yet completely squeezed dry of storytelling capabilities. More astounding is that it’s an enormously intriguing one, set in the too little-seen aftermath of the years of battle.
It makes it all the more shocking then, that we learn – through Radmann’s horrified eyes – that this has been achieved by merely sweeping the horrors under the rug. Its genuinely upsetting to witness some of the interviews he conducts, hearing troubling anecdotes of child torture and stomach-churning medical experiments. Shades of Spotlight’s journalistic intrigue shine throughout, but sadly, this German language film never reaches the same heights.
It’s truly a shame that such an interesting and refreshing account of a pivotal moment in history is brought down by depressingly lazy storytelling. Ricciarelli handles the dramatics as a director well enough, but his screenplay, co-written with Elisabeth Bartel, is cliché-ridden, clunky and terribly uninspired. Fehling’s Radmann is so blindly determined in his quest that he goes through the blasé motions most made-for-TV movies wouldn’t stoop to these days – losing everything and hitting rock bottom in his quest for justice. His motives for such gruelling self-sacrifice are never one hundred per cent clear, but you’ll certainly be able to smell the predictable resolution from a mile off.
Worst of all is the love story between Radmann and Marlene (Friederike Becht), a seamstress who, after getting off on the wrong foot with Radmann as the subject of a court case, becomes his romantic interest. Becht is gorgeous, but little more than an “emotional core” plot device. There is literally a scene wherein Radmann, traumatised by his recent findings and in need of reassurance, is looked in the eye by Marlene, mid-coitus, and told that “life is beautiful.” Gag.
Much of this soapy nonsense undermines the film’s prudent points, but if you can look past the crudely conventional content, there is plenty to chew on here. It makes for a fine – if less compelling and impactful – companion piece to Son of Saul.
Labyrinth of Lies is available in Australian cinemas from March 31st
Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment