Recovering from trauma takes time. Still in a state of denial, the Germany of the 1950s was a troubled place as members of a generation not yet born during the Holocaust began to take those responsible for it to task. First-time director Giulio Ricciarelli captures that tension in his period piece Labyrinth of Lies. The film opens at the Cedar Lee Theatre on Friday.
The movie centers on idealistic public prosecutor Johann Radmann (Homeland Security's Alexander Fehling), a guy who spends the better part of his days issuing fines for traffic violations. But when journalist Thomas Gnielka (André Szymanski) comes to him with the case of a certain Simon (Johannes Krisch), an Auschwitz survivor who has recognized a neighborhood teacher as a brutal S.S. guard, he begins to move into treacherous legal waters.
He begins to explore the war crimes of Auschwitz, but because many of the administrators are former Nazis, he finds it difficult to get any assistance.
Still, he befriends Simon and begins to spend time with him because he wants to know more about what happened at Auschwitz. As a result, his superiors dismiss him and criticize his actions. And the general public doesn't take kindly to it either. "Do you understand now, they're still everywhere," says Simon one night to Johann after an agitator throws a rock through his window while he and Johann are playing a board game.
Johann's boss, prosecutor-general Fritz Bauer (Gert Voss), doesn't support the endeavor and warns him against "opening old wounds." And an American solider who runs a warehouse of Nazi documents shows him some 600,000 SS files but tells him he must dig through them himself. Once he gains access to the archives that identify the 8,000 SS soldiers working at Auschwitz, he realizes Auschwitz resembled a "killing machine" and he sets about bringing the criminals to justice, setting the stage for what would become known as the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials.
Based on a true story, the film doesn't have the cinematic flourish to make it a great period piece. More than one critic has noted the use of an overwrought score to bring dramatic scenes to life, and the cinematography is rather pedestrian. Still, the movie has a compelling story at its core, and Ricciarelli gets solid performances out of the cast.