It is easy, too easy, to forget that even in the late 50s Germany had managed to achieve a country-wide amnesia about WWII and the horrors that had occurred. The assumption was that the Nuremberg trials were over and everyone else was free to forget about their involvement. Into this stepped a new generation who never knew what had gone on because they had never been taught about it, much like American children weren’t taught about Japanese internment camps until fairly recently.
As his first feature directing (as well as co-writing), Giulio Ricciarelli did a magnificent job keeping the story both personal and broad without having to trot out imagery or, generally, graphic description. It is no surprise to me that the film won a slew of awards. Harrowing and fascinating… I never expected this to be a laugh-fest, but neither was I in the mood for a dirge. What Ricciarelli provides in the stead of in-your-face imagery is honesty and faces and reactions which combined to flatten me more than once through the first half of the film. Enough so that I actually had to take a break; it caused me a flood of emotion. If I had just stuck with it, I would have realized that it was all about to shift into another gear at that point, but I didn’t know. You now do, so just watch it straight through. Like Remember, or even Woman in Gold, Labyrinth quietly peels back layers of truth until the core must be confronted.
Playing the real-life Johan Radmannn, Alexander Fehling (Homeland) travels the road of a young lawyer naive enough to believe in justice and utterly ignorant of the past. He steps into the swamp of reality by degrees, slowly discovering the depth of the willful ignorance affecting everyone around him. It is a nuanced and solid performance as he begins to absorb the truth and has to, like the rest of his country, deal with it. This is his film more than anyone else, but he is surrounded by a collection of great talent. The one interesting oddity in the cast is Tim Williams (Chicken with Plums), who plays an American Major. His role provides additional reflection on the situation and the burying of the truth.
Labyrinth was a challenging film to write up. I was having two very distinct reactions to it. One was purely emotional and the other critical. I still can’t quite divide the two, but it was an incredibly effective film that was worth every minute I spent with it.
Side note: Utterly unintentionally, I viewed this film even as votes ushered in a new tide of anti-migration and cultural isolationism that appears to be gaining ground in Germany. Talk about odd timing.