“Labyrinth Of Lies” is the perfect German film. Technically brilliant and emotionally riveting. Thirteen years after World War II,we see how the “DeNazification Act of The Allies” worked. As one character snidely states, “Everyone was a resistance fighter after 1945.” “Do you think the Nazis vanished into thin air?” “They came home,took off their uniforms,and like nothing happened,went on with their lives.”
This symbol-packed film begins at a school recess. An iron fence separates an artist strolling from a group of male teachers complaining about some “bad actors” in their classes. One teacher walks to the fence and offers the cigaretted artist a light. He drops his box of colored pencils, and we see his face register fear. It is 1958, and we are in Frankfurt. A former Nazi is teaching school children.
A complaint is made to the Attorney General’s Office, and tossed literally in a trash bin. Our young German prosecutor picks the paper out of the bin and forces an entire country to face its past. He is told that the public sector is full of Nazis. Teachers are needed. Authorities tell him that this situation is beyond their authority, and certainly beyond his. Then he is told that the teacher was suspended. He checks and finds him still in the classroom. We see our young prosecutor slice the top off of a soft-boiled egg and we know he will dig in. He knows Hitler is gone,but he wants to lead an investigation on war criminals who resettled. Charging these men in Germany will be extraordinary, but this will be a labyrinth he will lose himself in, too.
This film may be the best edited film I have ever seen,which is a tad ironic given the premise that most Germans wished to sugar-coat the truth, or just forget. The pacing is energetic given the daunting work load, the secrets, the dutiful soldier morality, and the survivor resistance to re-live the horror of the camps. Millions of records reside in the Document Center. A practical,plain-speaking American military official oversees the access. He cautions our truth seeker: “Don’t do it.” One sees the hushing-up as poison, the other sees the opening-up as poison. Veritas sets this film free,and may be some German guilt with it. “Less we forget” is for all mankind.
What is remembered is done magnificently. To Latin Church song,we see Auschwitz survivors mouthing the horrors they witnessed. Nightmares flare of Mengele: twin experiments and specimen jars are underscored. Our hero almost gives up as he sees everyone complicit in some way. We are even asked to wonder if the Jerusalem Post journalists are real or just intent on destroying lists of names. “Do you wish everyone to know that his father was a Nazis?” “Your generation has no sense of loyalty!” are retorts thrown at him. Johann Radmann, our greenhorn prosecutor,sees a nation of drunken criminals.His boss,the Attorney General, tells him that when he leaves his office he is in enemy territory. He tells Johann “You are exonerated? You were born in 1930.”
Opened and closed doors, hazed window light,laundry flapping on the line,new dresses being made all weave symbolically to further deepen an extraordinary film. The Kaddish recited in the meadow, the L’Chaim toast, the trial beginning in 1963 all speak to the question of if some things are too big to fix. Certainly, this film tells us that silence fixes nothing. An amazing cinematic marvel, written,acted and directed, and edited to perfection.