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Labyrinth of Lies Blu-ray Review

Labyrinth of Lies (2015) movie poster Labyrinth of Lies (Im Labyrinth des Schweigens)

US Theatrical Release: September 30, 2015 (German Release: November 6, 2014) / Running Time: 122 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Giulio Ricciarelli / Writers: Elisabeth Bartel, Giulio Ricciarelli

Cast: Alexander Fehling (Johann Radmann), André Szymanski (Thomas Gnielka), Friederike Becht (Marlene Wondrak), Johannes Krisch (Simon Kirsch), Johann von Bülow (Prosecutor Otto Haller), Robert Hunger-Bühler (Chief Prosecutor Walter Friedberg), Hansi Jochmann (Secretary Schmittchen), Lukas Miko (Hermann Langbein), Gert Voss (Attorney General Fritz Bauer), Tim Williams (Major Parker), Mathis Reinhardt (Officer Mann Fischer), Hartmut Volle (Teacher Alois Schulz)

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You can waste hours scouring the Internet in search of someone predicting a movie other than Son of Saul to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film next week. To call that hard-hitting Holocaust drama from Hungary a frontrunner is an understatement. Meanwhile, a film in the same language from a neighboring country, Germany itself,
exploring the aftermath of the Holocaust will sit out the ceremony after making the Academy's shortlist of nine but failing to secure one of the Foreign Language category's five nominations. That film is Labyrinth of Lies, which like most of the films on the shortlist received overwhelming critical acclaim. But, with only five films to recognize, picking two kindred tales from Central Europe might have seemed narrow-minded, even for an organization that has repeatedly found Holocaust drama irresistible.

Labyrinth is set in Germany in 1958, over a decade after the end of World War II. Our protagonist, 28-year-old Johann Radmann (Alexander Fehling), has recently started working for the Frankfurt public prosecutor's office. To date, his experience has been limited to traffic violations. That changes when he pursues a story pitched by journalist Thomas Gnielka (André Szymanski) about an Auschwitz SS officer who now teaches children in an elementary school. Johann raises the issue and is told the teacher will be suspended, but he finds that not to be the case when he follows up.

These are much different times. The wounds of the Holocaust are fresh and while much of the blame was placed on Hitler, virtually anyone older than Johann held some position, belonged to the Nazi party, or allowed such atrocities to occur against the Jews. Shockingly, most people in Germany haven't even heard of Auschwitz and there's nary a book on the concentration camp to be found at the library. Complicating the legal matters is the fact that everything but murder is time-barred from prosecution and murder charges require specific testimony and evidence.

Thinking of their mutual friend Simon Kirsch (Johannes Krisch), a survivor who lost his wife and young twin daughters in Auschwitz, Johann and Thomas, who agrees to keep the story under wraps, pursue the avenues for punishing those responsible for thousands of deaths. Johann zeroes in on one Dr. Josef Mengele, a friendly-looking monster who has committed unthinkable acts against children, including Simon's. Deciding Mengele is the face of everything wrong with Auschwitz, the young lawyer pursues him, learning he's hiding in South America.

With Johann facing some blowback from a superior and Thomas getting a Swastika-painted rock through his window, the two men wonder if what they're doing can have any meaning. Upon discovering his presumed dead father's own Nazi ties, Johann resigns and takes a position at a law firm specializing in patents. On the side of his heavy workload, Johann also starts up a romance with Marlene (Friederike Becht), a budding fashion designer he first met in court as a traffic violator.

Johann (Alexander Fehling) and Thomas (André Szymanski) each try to recreate the "Boyhood" poster in "Labyrinth of Lies."

The feature directing debut of veteran Italian-German actor Giulio Ricciarelli, Labyrinth of Lies paints an interesting picture of a chapter in German history we haven't seen given much thought in cinema.
The Holocaust itself is a frequent subject of interest, particularly to European filmmakers who are haunted by such ghosts. But Labyrinth explores the "next" and does so in compelling fashion as a well-acted, sharply-told legal procedural with loads of human interest.

Opening in 3 theaters and expanding to 72, Labyrinth received a September release quite comparable to what Son of Saul got starting the week before Christmas. (The two share a North American distributor in Sony Pictures Classics.) Back down to just four theaters and mostly finished, Labyrinth has grossed just shy of $800 thousand here, while Son of Saul stands a little over $1 million and poised to go a little higher after it presumably wins that Oscar. That illustrates quite clearly the relatively minor commercial value of Foreign Language Film Oscar recognition. While you'll have to wait at least several months until Son of Saul hits home video, Labyrinth of Lies got there last week in separate DVD and Blu-ray editions, the latter of which is reviewed here.

Labyrinth of Lies (2015) Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.35:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (German)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English SDH
Release Date: February 16, 2016
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Suggested Retail Price: $34.99
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap
Also available on DVD ($26.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Labyrinth of Lies looks terrific in Sony's clean, sharp 2.35:1 Blu-ray transfer. The German soundtrack is similarly easy to admire in the disc's crisp 5.1 DTS-HD master audio mix. English, English SDH, and French subtitles are supplied.

Marlene (Friederike Becht) and Johann (Alexander Fehling) enjoy a walk and talk with chocolate ice cream cones in this deleted scene. Director Giulio Ricciarelli and star Alexander Fehling answer a host and audience questions at the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's extras begin with an audio commentary by director/co-writer Giulio Ricciarelli and leading man Alexander Fehling. Theirs is a flowing and informative discussion which almost always refers to what's onscreen.

The two also detail past experiences and acknowledge the work of their collaborators.

Next up comes a section with seven short deleted scenes (5:46). They match the rest of the film in tone and content, meaning they were probably cut for time, with the movie running slightly over 2 hours with credits.

Ricciarelli and Fehling can be seen as well as heard in a sparsely-attended English language Q & A panel (43:01) from the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival unenthusiastically hosted by Hilary Helstein. With Ricciarelli doing most of the talking and Fehling cracking generational jokes, they discuss the film's origins, the composite characters and factual material, the themes, Germany's reaction to the movie, the use of cantor music, the influence of the 1970s NBC miniseries "Holocaust", and the history depicted.

Finally, we are lucky enough to get the Labyrinth of Lies North American trailer (1:55).

The menu's "Previews" listing repeats the same six trailers which play automatically at disc insertion. They promote Irrational Man, Truth, Son of Saul, Grandma, Coming Home, and The Lady in the Van.

The simple menu attaches score to a static screen adapted from the poster art which the cover still closely resembles. The disc both resumes playback and allows you to set bookmarks on the film.

Though the packaging itself doesn't mention it, Labyrinth of Lies does include Digital HD with UltraViolet. An insert supplying your code and directions is all that joins the full-color disc inside the unslipcovered side-snapped keepcase.

Johann (Alexander Fehling) and Thomas (André Szymanski) visit Auschwitz to recite the Kaddish for the departed daughters of their friend in "Labyrinth of Lies."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Labyrinth of Lies offers an engaging and thoughtful examination of Germany confronting the Holocaust in the not immediate wake of World War II. On Blu-ray, this drama gets terrific picture and sound plus a substantial assembly of bonus features.

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Reviewed February 21, 2016.



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