Labyrinth of Lies is more than a story of history

A few years ago I visited Dachau Concentration Camp in Germany. My husband and I travelled just 32-odd kilometres to get there from Munich. I remember walking back into the small town after the English tour. Only a few hundred metres down the road we turned a corner and bright, summery shrubbery obscured the site of many deaths from view. I think this is what it was like for many Germans during WWII. An extermination camp operated, mere kilometres from where ordinary Germans lived. And residents either chose to ignore its existence or were unaware of it.

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Alexander Fehling in the subtly and brilliantly acted Labyrinth of Lies. Image source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marshall-fine/the-week-in-movies-labyri_b_8182496.html

Decades later of course the world has enough information about what went on in these camps to be appalled. Perpetrators have been prosecuted. Camps like Dachau have been made into museums so that we can’t escape history. But it wasn’t always like this. The film Labyrinth of Lies makes that clear. Set in Frankfurt less than two decades after the war viewers of this movie are confronted with a Germany of silence. Victims hesitant to speak up. Nazis living and working as bakers, mechanics, teachers in towns alongside their victims, not revealing what they did. Officials unwilling to share what they knew. Finding the criminals was a mission, exacerbated by laws for their prosecution that didn’t yet exist, and reams and reams of paperwork and red tape.

One young prosecutor, instilled with a sense of justice, “stumbles” across a victim, and a journalist passionate to tell the truth. And so together they begin what would lead to the first large trial in Germany of SS officers who were responsible for the deaths of thousands in Auschwitz. Alexander Fehling as the prosecutor Johann Radmann is outstanding in his role. Subtleties of facial expression and body language reveal more than words as the actor moves his character from ignorance, through duty then horror, to passion, despair and determination.

Labyrinth of Lies is more than a film about history. It reveals the human heart and poses the question that, had we been in the position of those Nazi officers, would we have behaved any differently?

Labyrinth of Lies is in German with English subtitles. It opened at Ster Kinekor Cinema Nouveau in South Africa on Friday 30 September 2016.

National Arts Festival: Day Three

Thinkfest was first up on A Feast of Tales’s agenda on day three of the NatArtsFest with a discussion on Gender Politics. The hour’s dialogue indicated that this rhetoric-laden topic still favours too much – well – dialogue and too little practical application. An over-aggressive approach also emerged as a problem. Number two on our schedule was the dialogue-heavy House of Truth in which actor, Sello Maake kaNcube, told the story of writer Can Themba and his struggles during apartheid to be recognised as a teacher. The drama had a good script but was depressing and failed to hold the audience’s attention for its overly long 90-minute duration. Hannah Arendt was another ‘struggle’ piece, though this time in the form of a movie. Like the Sophie Scholl film we saw on day two, Hannah Arendt presented a view of Nazi Germany somewhat different to what we were used to. In this story German-Jewish philosopher and author, Hannah Arendt, wrestled with the problem of evil, putting forward the – scandalous – ideas that German perpetrators of crimes in World War II may simply have failed to think and that Jewish victims may have been complicit in their own victimisation. Our day ended with the brilliantly executed The Echo of a Noise by Pieter Dirk-Uys, in which this renowned performer gave an autobiographical account of his life, revolving mostly around his combative relationship with his ‘Pa’. Rich, funny, tender and well-rounded, Uys’s performance was very deserving of its standing ovation.

 

Two films that made me think

Two film reviews by Brenda Daniels

That Sugar Film

Do you remember Super Size Me, the 2004 film that featured Morgan Spurlock eating only McDonald’s food for a month? In that documentary-style movie the vices of fat, particularly trans-fats in food, are exposed. Spurlock experiences weight-gain, liver problems, lethargy and nausea. That Sugar Film, released in South Africa on 31 July 2015, follows the same format, with a similar outcome for experimenter Damon Gameau, only this time it’s sugar that is the enemy. And the low-fat diet.

The low-fat diet, promoted for decades as the healthy way to eat, is responsible for added sugar in processed food, the film contends. This is because food still needs to taste good. In order to keep the food tasting good once the fat is removed, sugar is added. That Sugar Film’s proposed solution is that we go back to fat and cut out the sugar. Tim Noakes of Banting fame will be pleased.

I rushed home after seeing this film and read the ingredient lists on my cereals and instant meals. I was horrified to see how much sugar was in them. But I was also left feeling confused. Is fat in or out? Is sugar really all that bad?

I’m no nutritionist so feel unqualified to say for certain. But, whilst I’m not going to jump on the bandwagon and vilify sugar, I think the sensible thing to do is cut out processed foods as far as possible and cook from scratch. That way I can control the amount of sugar and fat I add.

Woman in Gold

Woman in Gold is another interesting film released in South Africa on 31 July 2015. It features the true story of Maria Altmann, a Jewish victim of World War II’s Nazi Germany. Before Maria and her husband escaped the regime for America, the Altmann family’s wealth in the form of jewellery, ornaments and artworks were confiscated.

Woman in Gold, by artist Gustav Klimt, was among them. After the war the painting became famous Austrian property and grew to be synonymous with that country’s national identity. More than 50 years after the war reparations to war victims were initiated in Europe. This is where the Woman in Gold story begins. Maria (Helen Mirren) enlists the help of a friend’s lawyer son, Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), and the pair pursue the return of Woman in Gold to its rightful owner.

There were some elements of this film I did not like. Its Hollywood flavour, its intimation that justice can be found only in the USA, the unbelievable passion displayed by the lawyer, and the indisputable monetary attraction of the value the painting: several hundred million dollars.

What did give me food for thought, however, was the parallels Maria’s story draws with reparations to victims of apartheid in South Africa. At one point in the film, Randy asks why Maria is concerned about something that happened so long ago. Her response: “And you think 50 years is a long time?” Likewise, 50 years is not a long time for casualties of apartheid, real people who lost possessions, land and homes.

That Sugar Film and Woman in Gold are on at Cinema Nouveau countrywide.