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Entries in Labyrinth of Lies (6)

Wednesday
Sep302015

Interview: "Labyrinth of Lies" Director on Obsession, Oscars and How Directing is Like Playing Music

Jose here. When we first meet Johann Radmann (Alexander Fehling) in Labyrinth of Lies, he’s a tenacious, idealistic prosecutor, who refuses to let a young woman get away unscathed from a minor traffic ticket with the notion that the law should be abided no matter what. His world is turned upside down upon discovering that the system he respects so much is overcrowded with former Nazis who were never prosecuted for their crimes against humanity. When his boss Fritz Bauer (Gert Voss) sees his potential, he assigns him to investigate the crimes committed by former workers at Auschwitz. Directed by Giulio Ricciarelli, Labyrinth of Lies is a powerful thriller that touches on the subject of obsession in unexpected  ways. The film’s plot spans for almost a decade, which allows us to see the frustration and powerlessness felt by the characters. Even knowing the real life outcome, we sometimes doubt Johann will be able to overcome the corruption and indifference of those in power.

The film will represent German at the Academy Awards, and begins its US theatrical release today. I spoke to director Ricciarelli about his unique directorial style, the theme of obsession and creating supporting characters worthy of their own movies.

JOSE: Labyrinth of Lies is essentially a film about obsession. Can you talk about how you used obsession to shape the structure of the film and the character played by Alexander Fehling?

more after the jump

Click to read more ...

Friday
Sep252015

Beauty Break: Alexander Fehling

In a very stacked weekend for new releases -- 10 of them in total with names as big as Anne Hathaway, Andrew Garfield, Robert de Niro, and Ryan Reynolds -- plus expansions for the mountain climbing spectacle Everest and the hotly buzzing Emily Blunt & Benicio del Toro cartel thriller Sicario -- let us draw your attention to one of the smallest, but not the least of the new films and stars. Germany's Foreign Oscar contender Labyrinth of Lies arrives by way of Sony Pictures Classics. Yes, it's a Holocaust drama* but here's something much less sober to contemplate: the beauty of its leading man Alexander Fehling who you may already recognize from Inglorious Basterds (2009) or Young Goethe in Love (2010) and who you'll see very in just over a week on the season premiere of Homeland's 5th season as he joins that series as legal counsel Jonas Happich, Carrie Matheson's new love interest.

But we saw him first, Carrie!  [More...]

Click to read more ...

Friday
Aug282015

Open Thread (feat. The Gurus of Gold.)

How are you feeling about the forthcoming Oscar race? Do you think we've seen several prime contenders or mostly none at all? When will you feel it's truly begun?

David Poland at Movie City News just asked the Gurus of Gold (including yours truly) to rank the forthcoming Oscar races in three different categories: widely seen already / playing the festivals / opening late in the year. You can see the charts here. If you trust "the wisdom of crowds" as it were, Carol, Inside Out, and Mad Max Fury Road are in the best positions thus far of movies that have already screened. This confuses me a bit as Carol's reviews in Cannes felt more admiring than deeply in love which can be but is not always a problem with the Academy. Plus it'll have to survive the current turmoil at the Weinstein CompanyInside Out, while a true return to form, still has to deal with the fact that it's an animated movie from a studio that has been terrifically well rewarded already that they won't feel they owe a single thing to, in a time frame in which "wow, animated movies can be just as good as live action movies!" is no longer a revelatory angle but just a "duh!" part of the landscape, and whose future slate does not suggest that it's a return to form for good since the upcoming slate is largely sequels. And though I love Mad Max: Fury Road as much as anyone -- I'll be very surprised if it doesn't make my top ten -- I'm still having trouble imagining it as a true player. The fourth film in a long dead franchise that they never cared about before (zero nominations) in a genre they don't care about (apocalyptic sci-fi) from a director who has remained an outsider by choice (George Miller) starring actors they probably like but are inarguably not obsessed with, whose pleasures often focus on practical effects and stunts (for which Oscar has no category). I'm trying to find the Oscar hook beyond ecstatic reviews (which several other movies will also have by years end as that's how the season always goes) but if there is one it's invisible!  I'm more bullish on Youth and Brooklyn, largely because they seem more traditional in terms of Oscar appeal for reasons involving both topics and tone. 

P.S. #1 Toronto is less than two weeks away. Eep!

P.S. #2 Are you joining us for Hit Me With Your Best Shot - Mad Max: Fury Road? That's Monday night, September 7th! I'll try not to choose the shot above which filled me with wild shameless feminist glee in the movie theater... but I might. We'll see.

P.S. #3 More on Oscar's Foreign Language Film race very soon but watch out for Germany. They've just selected Labyrinth of Lies and, as you may recall from last year's TIFF write-ups, it's quite good. And Oscar friendly, too. It's a Holocaust movie that doesn't feel like 'just another Holocaust movie' because it's coming at the topic from a far less overworked angle, as its about a lawyer investigating unpunished war crimes in the 1960s.

Thursday
Aug132015

Germany's Submissions for Oscar Consideration


Having had no luck scoring a nomination for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar since Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon six years ago, Germany has just announced the shortlist for consideration as the country's entry for the 88th Academy Awards. The eight films listed are:

  • 13 Minutes (Elser) by Oliver Hirschbiegel
  • Head Full of Honey (Honig im Kopf) by Til Schweiger
  • Jack by Edward Berger
  • Labyrinth of Lies (Im Labyrinth des Schweigens) by Giulio Ricciarelli
  • Sanctuary (Freistatt) by Marc Brummund
  • Schmidts Katze by Marc Schlegel
  • Victoria by Sebastian Schipper
  • We Are Young. We Are Strong. (Wir sind jung. Wir sind stark.) by Burhan Qurbani

Let's take a closer look...

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Apr092015

Every Thing Will Be Fine. Plus: German Oscar Contenders

Team Experience is adding two new members this week. Please welcome Sebastian! - Editor

Sebastian here, with my first dispatch from the outskirts of Germany, where I spend my days watching movies and occasionally writing about them. You might have seen my post about the unique ways Birdman deals with suicide and depressionBorn in 1982, I’ve lived in Germany all my life. Currently residing in Trier (birthplace of Karl Marx; not affiliated with Lars von), I’ve dabbled in various pursuits ranging from photography to education, but movies remain my biggest passion, which is why I was thrilled when Nathaniel asked me to contribute to The Film Experience.

Let’s start out with a few thoughts on Wim Wenders’ latest dramatic effort, and a brief look ahead at some of the films aspiring to be submitted as Germany’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film this year.

With his Oscar-nominated documentary The Salt of the Earth still in theaters in the US, Germany has already seen the release of Wim Wenders’ follow-up picture, Every Thing Will Be Fine, which I saw here last week. [More...]

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Sep112014

TIFF Quickies: 1001 Grams, Sand Dollars, Labyrinth of Lies

Nathaniel's adventures in Toronto. Day whichever.

Three more quick takes on Norway's Oscar submission, a LGBT romance of sorts in the Dominican Republic and a surprisingly intense film from Germany that I hadn't heard of before arriving.

Bent Hamer directs Ane Dahl Trop in the Norwegian Oscar submission "1001 Grams"

1001 GRAMS
How much does a soul weigh? I don’t mean to bring up painful memories of 21 Grams, but everything in 1001 Grams must be effortfully measured. Lab technician Marie is just such a meticulous woman, in charge of the official Norwegian kilo, which is to be weighed and calibrated in Paris at an annual seminar to ensure that all countries kilos are the same or else: chaos! Though the oddity of this international standards milieu suggests a comedy, what we get is stonefaced drama... or possibly comedy so dry, I needed a humidifier in the room to get it. Bent Hamer, who directed two previous Norwegian Oscar submisssions O'Horten and Kitchen Stories (neither won nominations), so precisely calibrates this new film that every image feels carefully storyboarded. There's a gorgeous balance of stark blues and bright whites and he often abandons our lonely protagonist in silhouette in dark sparsely furnished apartments. Even Marie’s car, an cute electric thing, fits the color schemes. When Marie and her colleagues take smoke breaks at work the images are so strictly shot that the actors seem like mice stopped for a moment to think (?) in a narrow stretch of  bureaucratic maze. Marie is so controlled that she can’t even express her grief when her father dies, and the actress Ane Dahl Torp, doing fine if limited work by the nature of the role, has to squeeze all Marie's hurt into tiny hollow syllables like “takk” (thank you) when people wonder how she’s doing. It’s a solid movie but unfortunately its strength, that crafted precision, is also its weakness. There’s so much time spent establishing how regimented, monotonous and empty Marie’s life is that the film turns into a dull laborious watch. Things eventually begin to change for Marie when she meets a bird-loving Frenchmen at a business seminar but the actual drama is so backloaded that it's tough to make it to the final stretch. Slightly touching in an unusually low key way, but it’s a complete mystery as to why Norway chose it as their Oscar submission over the daring and hypnotic Blind (Sundance review) which was also in the running. C+

Yanet Mojica and Geraldine Chaplin star in "Sand Dollars"

SAND DOLLARS
Wealthy septuagenarian Frenchwoman Anne (Geraldine Chaplin) is wiling away her twilight years on a private beach of the Dominican Republic. There’s little to tether her to France, her only child being estranged, and she’s fallen in love with a young local girl named Noeli (Yanet Mojica) though she knows almost nothing about her. Money is often exchanged though Noeli is neither, strictly speaking, a prostitute nor a kept girl. This intimate and relatively stable relationship (two years and counting) begins to crack when Anne wants to take Noeli back to Paris with her permanently. Sand Dollars hits its encomic colonialism, class disparity, and exploitation notes relatively indelicately  -- there's no mistaking the themes -- but the odd connections between its characters are, in contrast, delicately observed. Noeli's true feelings are hard to read, but she is both an attentive lover and shameless about requests for money. Little details begin to accumulate like the way Anne's mascara clumps always look like she's crying even when she's happy, how Noeli dances both for self pleasure and with awareness of the practical value of her body, the way that even when Noeli's boyfriend  looks away he's weighing the presence of "the old lady". The film gets under your skin especially with the complications of actual affection where only a business transaction would be easier for everyone. A minor film but sensitively delivered and blissfully short (80 minutes) in keeping with its slim story. B/B-

LABYRINTH OF LIES
For the first reel or two of this postwar German drama, I wondered why they’d cast such a handsome but blank lead actor (Alexander Fehling) as the protagonist Johann Radmann. Radmann is an ambitious young lawyer who, somewhat on a whim, takes an interest in unpunished war crimes and former Nazis teaching school children that a local activist reporter has clued him in to. But the initial empty suit impression is a false one. At a party early in the film the reporter tells his bohemian friends that they have to encourage Radmann until his flicker of humanity turns to a raging fire. It’s meant as a ‘loosen up’ joke, and very smartly delivered as an offhand remark rather than foreshadowing. But this is exactly what happens in this impressive debut feature from Giulio Ricciarelli. Fehling's performances, very well modulated, grows more and more intense as the new case shifts from curiousity to a detective-like fascination and then full blown righteous vendetta with Fehling's blown out eyes and angrier voice dramatizing that he hasn't slept in weeks, and that his daydreams are all nightmares. The story is fascinating, detailing the widespread ignorance about The Holocaust in Germany just one generation after the war. Auschwitz, for example, the chief subject of the investigation, is a place most young Germans the lawyers talks to have never heard of. Labyrinth of Lies is glossily made (perhaps too glossy?), well acted, and moving with a constant throughline of the need for survivors to tell their stories and for people to understand their own country's history and face their own demons.

Germany was the first country to ever try its own soldiers for war crimes and if there is a significant mark against the film it's that this is, frankly, an impossible story to squeeze into a 122 minutes motion picture. It's implications are so vast and though the movie has many fine scenes and is appropriately sober about the psychic turmoil of survivors and the need to understand your nation's own character and face your own personal demons, it also wants to be a detective story and a romance. Labyrinth is sometimes so swift that some of the developlments and results feel convenient rather than desperately produced or are brushed off so quickly that they matter less in retrospect. I rarely ask for movies to be longer but this one could have used Zodiac's willingness to chase loose ends and run on for at least another half hour or so. B+ 

Alexander Fehling loses himself in horrific documentation of World War II

Also at TIFF
A Little Chaos
The New Girlfriend
Wild
The Gate, Cub, The Farewell Party and Behavior
The Theory of Everything and Imitation Game
Foxcatcher and Song of the Sea
The Last Five Years
Wild Tales and A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Force Majeure, Life in a Fishbowl and Out of Nature
Mommy
The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness
Charlie's Country