Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Kino! ’15: The Lies of the Victors

Fabian Groys is a journalist and a compulsive gambler, so nobody should place their trust in him. Nevertheless, he will play the role of crusader for truth, when he is not pawning his Porsche to pay off gambling debts (evidently that is pretty easy to do in Germany). We are not supposed to find it suspicious this lefty journo drives such an expensive sports car either. All our mistrust should be reserved for the shadowy “them” in Christoph Hochhäusler’s The Lies of the Victors (trailer here), which screens as part of Kino! 2015, the festival of German Films in New York City.

In between binge drinking and losing his shirt at the craps tables, Groys has been working on an expose—something about German veterans from Afghanistan getting shunted into crummy jobs at a super-connected waste disposal facility. The details are about as hazy as his head and his Deep Throat source just bailed, for obvious reasons. However, he stumbles across a backdoor into the story when he has Nadja Koltes, the cute but naïve intern chase down some information on a vet who committed suicide by throwing himself into the local zoo’s lion habitat. Okay, that bit is pretty original, but guess where he worked.

Despite this rather damning revelation, the shadowy conspirators manage to manipulate Groys’ investigation. Eventually, Groys and Koltes land a cover story, but it is a rather toothless bit of moralizing compared to the muck-raking he originally intended. Unfortunately, once Groys realizes he has been played, it is dashed difficult to get un-played.

Since we see Groys inject his insulin within the first five minutes, everyone should know it is a lead pipe cinch there will be some sort of blood sugar misadventure before the film is out. Frankly, the entire film is like that. Many characters simply exist to represent the military, corporations, and media, with all the baggage that presumably entails. Arguably, Hochhäusler and co-writer Ulrich Peltzer are so concerned with scoring points, they lose sight of the narrative just as much as Groys does. Anyone who has been paying attention will wonder about obvious loose ends he and Koltes apparently forget about when they grind out their piece.

As Groys, Florian David Fitz admirably dives into the film, never shying away from the journalist’s self-absorbed nature and self-destructive tendencies. He also develops some believably ambiguous chemistry with Lilith Strangenberg’s Koltes. However, there are few legitimate characters to be found in the sprawling supporting ensemble, rather mostly just stock figures.

Lies is a stylish film, but not nearly as distinctive as Hochhäusler’s previous film, The City Below. While sharing certain thematic similarities, the prior film was also unusually intelligent and subtle. Neither are adjectives that easily fit Lies. Even the title, taken from a didactic Ferlinghetti quote, looks and sounds awkward. Very standard issue, The Lies of the Victors need not be a priority when it screens this Friday (4/10) and Saturday (4/11) at the Cinema Village, as part of this year’s Kino! in New York.