‘One woman in Germany who saw the film told me afterwards, ‘There is a box from our grandfather, it’s locked with a key and we didn’t want to open it, we didn’t want know what he did during the war,’” said Giulio Ricciarelli, the director of Labyrinth of Lies, an award-winning drama based on the trials of the commanders of Auschwitz in Germany in the mid-Sixties.
Ricciarelli, along with the movie’s star, Alexander Fehling, spoke at a press conference at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque last Tuesday.
“In school, you visit the concentration camps, you learn the history, but in families, there are still a lot of secrets,” said Ricciarelli, whose parents are Italian but who grew up in Germany.
For Ricciarelli, Labyrinth of Lies, a fact-based drama about a trial that has been all but forgotten, is a way to get Germans to open those boxes in their attics.
In one of the movie’s most moving moments, the young prosecutor is confronted by a man who taunts him with the question, “Do you want every young person to ask if his father is a murderer?” The prosecutor’s answer, and the movie’s, is a resounding yes.
Alexander Fehling echoed the sentiments of many viewers when he said, “The story behind the movie surprised me. I thought Germany confronted itself years ago, right after the war, and came to terms with history... I didn’t know that it took so long to start this [judicial] process.”
Fehling plays a young prosecutor, an amalgam of three real-life lawyers, who was chosen by Fritz Bauer, an attorney general for one region of Germany, to prosecute the men who ran Auschwitz. While soon after the war Germany admitted to the murder of millions of Jews and others in the death camps and began paying reparations to survivors, many, if not most, of those responsible for the Holocaust went back to living civilian lives with no legal consequences.
As the movie shows, West Germany was in the midst of an economic miracle and few felt any motivation to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Others, knowing that the evidence would lead to them, actively discouraged and obstructed the prosecutors’ work.
To prepare for his role, Fehling, who appeared in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, immersed himself in the history of the trials and met with those who worked on them and remembered them.
“Gerhard Wiese, one of the last remaining prosecutors was on the set one day... it stressed me out a little. It was a strange mixture of reality and fiction,” Fehling recalled.
Ricciarelli, an actor, had made some short films, but when he heard about this story, he knew that he had found the subject for his first feature film.
“There was something that happened when [co-writer Elisabeth Bartel and I ] wrote the script. At first, I was like a child, you know, ‘Let’s write a movie!’ But then, because of the subject and the enormity of it, we had to push ourselves, our egos back. It was always about the story. The process for me was very fulfilling. It was such a big task.”
The movie, which has been shown throughout Europe, has won a number of awards, and is up for several Lola Awards, the prizes of the German film industry, which will be given out in a ceremony in June.
Both men have visited Israel before, Ricciarelli on vacations and Fehling to make a movie called Atomic Falafel, directed by Dror Shaul (Sweet Mud), which has not been released yet. But Fehling did not want to talk about this Israeli film right now, preferring to concentrate on Labyrinth of Lies.
Ricciarelli, who said he was working on a contemporary political drama, said he was very pleased with the reception that Labyrinth of Lies had received all over the world.
“It’s very addictive to have a film that is really interesting to people, it’s rewarding. Der Spiegel had four pages when the movie came out.
There was one line about how it’s a great movie and the rest was about the prosecutors and the trial... It’s an entertainment business. You hope for meaning, but you don’t always have it.”