Tuesday, April 12, 2016

No, this is not the David Bowie Movie

I will continue to be as random as I can in my reviews, until one of my intrepid readers (hello?) calls me out. 

So, continuing my predictable unpredictability, I present Germany's entry in the Best Foreign Film competition for the 2016 Oscars, "Labyrinth of Lies". Truth be told, this is not a complete left turn from "Sicario" and bears some genetic material in common with the first film I reviewed, the excellent documentary "The Gatekeepers".

Labyrinth is a solid legal thriller that takes as its context and source material the true story of how ordinary Germans began to be prosecuted two decades later for, well, for the Holocaust. The sheer scale and audacity of this statement should tell you what the Prosecutors had to face in trying to get justice for millions of Jews, well after that War, the closing of the Concentration Camps, even the Nuremberg "show" trials. Germany in the early 1960s, awash in beatnik culture and only just recovering from WWII was not very interested in putting Germans on trial for any crimes, let alone the crime of Murder. Weren't the good soldiers of the Reich just "acting under orders"? If you didn't join the Party, were you exempt from moral, to speak nothing of Legal prosecution?

The genius of Labyrinth is that it focuses on the "ordinary man" (and woman) on both sides of these thought-provoking questions. The film asks, who was the more Evil, the seeming puppet masters like Eichmann or Mengele, or the average Joe (or Josef) who -- willingly or not -- accepted the reality of the Final Solution and participated in the machine-like brutality that was carried out on innocent men, women and children. The further cleverness of this crisply shot and acted film is that, rather than holding up the Attorney General's office as the hero (which it was) focuses on a lowly, "greenhorn" prosecutor, who almost stumbles upon Nazis hiding in plain sight while trying to get his legal career off the ground. Whether true or not, the narrative of Johann Radmann (played well by Alexander Fehling) gradually realizing how important his pursuit is, and also how amazingly difficult it will be to bring to conclusion is the compelling dramatic center of Labyrinth.

Some critics have taken film to task for being slow, or complex. Or just dour. I disagree, but that is what "critics" get to do. And in my case, that is what amateur critics get to do.