Labyrinth of Lies Alexander Fehling, André Szymanski, Friederike Becht. Directed by Giulio Ricciarelli. Rated R. Opens Friday.
When Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently made controversial claims about a Muslim leader who allegedly gave Adolf Hitler the idea to exterminate the Jews in Germany, German chancellor Angela Merkel released a statement reasserting that only Germans are to blame for the historical atrocity. That same need to atone infuses Labyrinth of Lies, Germany’s official selection for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Set in 1958, it chronicles the efforts of ambitious young German prosecutor Johann Radmann (Alexander Fehling) to arrest and bring to trial Germans who committed crimes at Auschwitz, especially rank-and-file Nazis who weren’t prosecuted at the famous Nuremberg trials.
Less than 20 years after World War II, most members of Radmann’s generation haven’t even heard of Auschwitz, and he faces resistance from older Germans who are hostile to the prospect of bringing up past misdeeds. Along with a crusading journalist (André Szymanski), Radmann works to shine a light on the sins of his countrymen, in the process questioning his own potential culpability. Radmann is a composite character, and the personal life that director and co-writer Giulio Ricciarelli invents for him is not particularly compelling, especially his bland romance with a pretty dressmaker (Friederike Becht).
The way that a few officials meticulously built a case against war criminals who might never have been brought to justice is impressive, however, and the procedural details can be riveting. But like Radmann, Ricciarelli is so fixated on assigning accountability that he ends up belaboring his entirely valid points, making the movie more about spouting facts than effectively dramatizing them.