There are very few movies I have on my list of films that you have to see at least once in your lifetime. These are the films that change you or open your mind in such a way that the movie becomes a part of you. You become a very different person after seeing it. These are the films that changed the way you saw reality and opened your mind to greater understanding.
Two of the films on that list for me are “American Beauty” and “Life is Beautiful.” Both, of course, ended up winning an Academy Award for best picture (“Life is Beautiful” won for Best Foreign Film at the Academy).
This year, though, I’ve had the pleasure of viewing a few more films that need to be added to that list. “Family on Board” (short film), “Winter” and now “Labyrinth of Lies.” All three films are currently up for Oscar consideration.[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jGxe6auuTg]
“Labyrinth of Lies” is a German film directed by Giulio Ricciarelli due to be released in the US in select theaters on September 25, 2015. What makes this movie so unique is that it is an eye opener for the Baby Boomer generation and beyond of how the world came to know what happened in Auschwitz after World War II.
Many of us came to know the Holocaust as being a part of history. We knew it happened. But for the 20 years post WWII, the world did not know what happened at Auschwitz, especially the German people. It wasn’t just denial, people believed in the propaganda put out by the Nazi party. They believed the Jews were being relocated to either a new city or a summer camp. They had no idea that thousands of people were murdered there.
That was what was so mind blowing about the film. The people of Germany, especially the youth and the 20 somethings, had absolutely no idea what happened. They hadn’t even heard of Auschwitz. That is, until a young prosecutor decided to investigate a crazed reporter’s request to look into a teacher who was one of the soldiers at Auschwitz. No one would take the request in his office, because many believed that it was just the normal course of the war. People die in wars. It wasn’t murder.
This leads the young prosecutor on a journey to discover what happened in Auschwitz and why the reporter believed what happened there was murder. They had already missed the window for any criminal charges (if any) to be filed, that is, except murder. Murder was the only charge that had no statute of limitations. If they could find that an actual crime of murder took place, then they could proceed with their investigation.
They found the evidence they needed to begin and the attorney general, Fritz Bauer, allowed them to proceed, choosing this young prosecutor, who knew nothing of what happened at Auschwitz, to lead the investigation. What unfolded for them was a labyrinth. A labyrinth of lies, deceit, political barriers, international barriers, corruption, and the idea that everything is okay and nothing is wrong.
After the war, many of the Nazis returned to a civilized life. They were kind, normal people just like everyone else. They did not believe they did anything wrong in Auschwitz, or at the least, they were protected by the Nazi Party members who were still in the bureaucracy. To many of them, they were just doing their jobs. It was a war. But as the story unfolds, the question of whether this was the normal course of war or actual murder is answered.
One of the most powerful moments in this movie is when they interview the witnesses. There are no words spoken. It’s just music. You see the shock and emotional expressions on their faces. You have no idea what is being said, but for the audience, you can imagine what is being said. This is the part of the movie where every story you’ve ever heard in your lifetime of what happened in Auschwitz comes forward. It is as if each of these witnesses are telling the stories you read or heard about. From the mass killings to the experiments to the shoes that are now sitting in the Holocaust Museum…these are the images you see flashing in your mind. It all of a sudden becomes so real, that you can’t help but be on the verge of tears.
Yet, there are no words being said. The music is what directs that story in your mind…and it is a powerful, yet horrible story.
This film is not another movie about the Holocaust. It’s a movie about how justice was brought for the victims for the very first time after the war. It wasn’t just about finding the murderers, it was about telling the victims’ stories instead of silencing them. The difference between what happened in these trials vs. the Nuremberg trials is that Nuremberg was about the victors dictating to the losers after the war what was going to happen. It wasn’t about bringing justice to the victims of the Holocaust. They didn’t even know about the Holocaust during the Nuremberg trials. It was the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials that brought the Holocaust to light and brought justice to its victims. It was also the first time that Germany was holding themselves accountable to the shame they brought to Germany and humanity.
That is one of the most important characteristics of this film. The director doesn’t want you to see or feel anything but the story. He doesn’t want you to pick out the elements of the cinematography or the music, etc. He wants the story to speak to you. He wants every single element in the process of the movie to come together to create the story. If you pick out any single element that goes beyond the story being told, it is as if he didn’t do his job correctly. This was purely about the story.
Ricciarelli was at the private screening at The Roxy Hotel last night and spoke about his film. Here’s the audio from the Q&A session with Hudson Union Society.
One of the things I kept thinking about after this film is how our world is still like post-WWII Germany. We become blind to the atrocities that we are still doing in the world. Even in America, we target a certain group of people and call them the enemy. The way this information is disseminated on why they should be our enemy is the same kind of propaganda the Nazis used during the war. Propaganda is a way of keeping people blind to the reality of what is truly happening.
If anything, this movie is not just a historical drama, it is a way of reminding ourselves not to repeat the past. Don’t be blind to what is happening in the world. A government proclaiming any group of people (like Muslims, Arabs or Mexicans) as our enemy should be a red flag to the world. No one should be persecuted for what they believe in, where they were born or the parents they were born to. Everyone is human and they have a right to live as human beings. Our willingness to remain blind silences those who have become the victims. Their stories need to be heard.