With so much brain dead blockbuster multiplex fodder around, it is a delight to come across a genuine, intelligent grown up movie. The Baader Meinhof complex tells the story of the Red Army Faction, also known as the Baader Meinhof gang. This terrorist/revolutionary cell in West Germany in the late 60s and seventies had its origins in the radical movements of the late sixties, in opposition to American involvement in Vietnam, and specifically in Germany in a fear of the return of facism. Much of the early part of the film is about how people get involved in radical politics and then violence. Early in the film a demonstration against the shah of Iran is brutally attacked by police. Ulrika Meinhof is the classic middle class liberal drawn into revolutionary action through a sense of guilt and powerlessness. Andreas Baader on the other hand is on a cocksure, testosterone fuelled power trip. He is defined in the film by his statement that the sexual revolution and the political revolution are one and the same. We also see Gudrun Ennslin the minster's daughter rebelling against her background, and a troubled young man fleeing young offenders institutions.
The film takes us from the late sixties, through the gang's reign of terror in the early - mid seventies, their involvement with Palestinian groups, to their capture, incarceration, trial and tragic end. The film doesn't judge, it merely portrays. Baader comes across as highly charismatic, but that is the nature of the beast rather than being a particularly sympathetic portrayal.
As well as being a history the film is highly allegorical, drawing parallels between the actions of the Red Army Faction and more recent terrorist groups and between historical and modern responses to terrorism - surveillance, erosion of civil liberties.
Where the film really scores is in the central performances, with Martina Gedeck playing Meinhof with a bruised vulnerability, Moritz Belbtrau all swagger and aggression as Andreas Baader, and Johanna Wokalek bringing an intense fervour to Ennslin.
The film is not perfect, for example the allegories are not subtly handled, rather Basil Exposition-like figures ram them down the audience's throat, and the film could do with being about 20-30 mins shorter - it sags in places.
Two final points
a) the subtitles are flaming awful, very difficult to read, often getting lost in the background,
b) the film is very violent, never gratuitously so, but it is pretty disturbing.
However, overall it is an intelligent, fascinating piece of work and is definitely recommended.
This is a fantastic retelling of Stefan Aust's book about the 1970's West German left wing group the Red Army Faction. The book itself is a fresh retelling of a time that many are aware of, but few are fully informed about - previous books tended towards bias to one side or the other, this at least gives a sense of balance.
This translates well in the film and although inevitably the rebellious RAF are more glamorous than the police they aren't portrayed as heroes, and much of your interpretation will be down to an individual point of view. Overall the film has an air of documentary and as it's based on actual events it can feel quite chaotic at times.
The acting is extremely good quality, in particular Martina Gedeck and Johanna Wokalek are sensational, the direction is effective in cutting between new and archive footage, and the budget on large scenes has been well spent, giving a feel of a big-budget action movie.
The screenplay brilliantly portrayed the way the mindset of the RAF developed as they became more and more convinced they were living in a police state. In spite of the violence and repression being depicted, I was reassured by the fact that such thought provoking films can and are being made for today's cinema audiences.
on 24 January 2010
I live around the corner from the scene of the shooting of Benno Ohnesorg at the Deutsch Opera in Berlin in 1967. This film brings a history to me that I can't imagine. Like most British people, my main image of German history is of the pre-1945 era. Since then they have gone through the Cold War, which is what their own image of German history is clouded by, and also the student terrorism movement. It turned out that Ohnesorg's murder should be a film story in itself, now that the police officer who shot him turned out to be a Stasi agent working for East Germany. Getting back onto this review: This is a good film! But as with many reviews, the subtitles detract from it. I had to sit next to the TV to watch it... I was going ask a mate around to watch it. I'm glad I didn't, just because of the subtitles. Crazy that they ruined a great film by not thinking about subtitles size.
on 26 April 2009
`The Baader Meinhof Complex' is an ambitious film, but it is not entirely clear just what those ambitions are. It covers a ten year period from the 1967 shooting of Benno Ohnesorg (the trigger for the extreme radicalisation of student protest in Germany at the time) through to the deaths of the first generation of the Red Army Faction (RAF) and the murder of Hans-Martin Schleyer in 1977. The period is very well captured and the accuracy of the whole production is outstanding. No major event in the ten year `careers' of Baader, Enslin, Meinhof, Meins et al is omitted and they are presented in a stylishly directed film with some excellent set pieces. The performances of all the main characters are excellent and convincing as far as they go. It is clear that a staggering amount of research has gone into the realisation of the film, the sets are accurate to the nth degree and, where possible, original locations have been used; the references to well known documentary photographs from the time are neatly integrated without feeling simply clever or knowing. But, in a curious way the need to present so 'accurately' the sequence of events actually hijacks the film's core, leaving one uncertain exactly what the film is meant to be. Is it intended to be a description of what took place? Or is it a study in the psychology of people who allow ideology to drive them into extreme actions?
In trying to give a comprehensive account of events the film inevitably has to gloss over some of the more interesting questions raised by those events. The RAF were political radicals and politically motivated terrorists, yet the ideology that underpinned their actions is only hinted at as a generalised anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, anti-American and anti-Israeli stance, and one never quite knows how much that ideology is actually driving them, nor what forms of coherence it claims to have. Certain of the membership were well versed in radical left theory and their praxis was derived from such theories, so it is surely a flaw in the film that one doesn't ever really know quite what they thought they were achieving (however deluded or unrealistic it may have been). But most seriously of all the psychological portraits of the protagonists are not sufficiently penetrating. I would have liked to have been given more sense of how they decided on their actions rather than simply what those actions were. It is only after they are arrested and locked up at Stammheim prison that one starts to get inside them as complex characters. Any one of the central characters is worthy of a film in their own right and perhaps that would make for a more successful project, for example: tracing the role of her religious upbringing in Gudrun Enslin's moral certainty and sense of martyrdom; examining Andreas Baader's troubled and delinquent adolescence and how his oppositional nature played out in his later actions; how exactly did the considerably older Ulrike Meinhof go from respectable journalist to underground terrorist (in the film it seems both too inevitable and too easy a move)? A more basic criticism is that the historical accuracy of the project results in a plethora of minor characters appearing and disappearing throughout the film; I doubt that anyone without a secure knowledge of the subject will know who many of them are or what they are doing there.
Nevertheless it is a valuable film and one that is well worth watching, raising as it does a number of important questions about idealism, ideology, radicalism and radicalisation. But it leaves space perhaps for more complex and nuanced exploration of those very issues. There is, of course, a danger that this film might come to stand as a definitive analysis of its subject and it would be a shame if it deterred other film makers from going there. In the end despite it being a long film I was left feeling that it was too short to do justice to its subject matter.
on 16 November 2009
There seems, understandably I feel, to be some confusion over what this film seeks to do and how successful it is. My reading is that the film seeks to provide "a slice of history", so to speak, and goes to great lengths to try to provide an "objective" account. The film thus includes all the dramatic action you could wish for (such being the nature of the history) without selling out to the "all-out action zero content" genre. The sincerity of intention is commendable.
The film successfully contextualises the birth of the Red Army Faction in late 60s West Germany against a background of the VietNam War (principally) but also Che's struggle in Bolivia, the Prague Spring, Martin Luther King's assassination, the Mexico City massacres and the student movement in Paris. The relevance of a generation intensely aware of the rise of Hitler's Third Reich and the importance of resisting fascism is also intelligently conveyed. But unfortunatley that's where the study of motive ends. We see Meinhof's rejection of a life of bourgeois comfort to join the RAF but we don't really understand why (and the key incident of her involvement in Baader's escape from prison is very poorly done). Nor are the reasons for her later disintegration nor her alienation from the rest of the group satisfactorily clarified. Ditto with Baader: we get a hint of his empathy with juvenile "delinquents" but the role of his background in creating the angry young man we see in the film is not explored. All the rest of the group appear as members with minimal or zero explanation as to what has led them there. This lack of psychological depth is the film's major weakness.
Maybe a psychological dimension is intentionally not explored to avoid any overt interpretation of the action. This would accord with the extremely meticulous attempts to present a "balanced" picture. The issue of selection of material is avoided by scrupulously including more or less every recorded action during the decade concerned. Throughout the film we get effectively a "double commentary": mainstream media prespectives of RAF actions are juxtaposed to the RAF viewpoint articulated by Meinhof. And here the film hits a dilemna: Meinhof's cliche-ridden prose during her RAF period lacks the critical and analytical dimension of her earlier "bourgeois" journalism. Using Meinhof's RAF writing as a device to articulate the RAF's ideological perspective is therefore going to have limited success due to the limited nature of the material. To weakness in the area of psychology we thus get weakness in the area of ideology. The end-result is an action-packed, well-acted, first-class production which leaves you dissatisfied and wishing to explore this fascinating phenomenon more deeply. Hopefully a future film will take up the challenge.
Though relatively unknown outside of Germany, The Baader-Meinhof Complex was a controversial film. Concerning the activities of central members in the 'urban-guerrilla' terrorist movement, Director Uli Edel tries treads that fine line between entertainment and pseudo-documentary, this is a risky film and could have descended into a celebration of the terrorist group, or even worse - failed to explain the reason for their existence. The conditions under which influential journalist Ulrike Meinhof and zealous militant Andreas Baader met and catalysed public mood against the authorities is explored here, we see how the spectrum of extremism shifted over the years and how a movement to change society became a menace in itself.
For some governments, free speech spread through Europe during the social revolution of the sixties like a disease with youths questioning the state in pursuit of their political ideals. With assassinations in the US, riots in Mexico and protests throughout Europe - resistance to the political right was building. Nowhere was this more sensitive than in Germany; a country literally divided, observing American Imperialism with worrying parallels to 30's Nationalism and fired by that shadow of Nazi past, thousands are beginning to stand up against the might of the state. More and more stones are being thrown in a quest for "a new morality", a desire to finally rid the state of former senior Nazis from the 'old' regime. The film starts with the shooting of a student at a protest, it was a key event which heightened the sense of police/state brutality and gave the protest movement a focus on which to build support.
The extras on this DVD show how great efforts were made to structure scenes around archive video and photographs, effectively recreating famous moments familiar to anyone exposed to news coverage of events. I knew very little about the Red Army Faction but the attempt to capture a realism of events means that this always feels grounded in reality rather than a glorified retelling of events. Although the film almost entirely concentrates on the inner circle of the movement, it doesn't side with them. It is perhaps guilty of sympathising with their movement, but it has to in order to stress why it gathered momentum. By showing us the inner workings of the Baader-Meinhof gang we come to understand the how the level of extremism escalated, the film doesn't attempt to take any moral high ground here, it simply shows us how and why things happened without offering a conclusion on how right/wrong the violence was. The main weakness of the film is that is often seems emotionally detached, even when dealing with Meinhof's own personal sacrifices. The truth is that many lives were impacted by violence and this is largely ignored, though it could be argued that presenting the events in a factual manner (and without the baggage of sentimentality) means that it can maintain a degree of credibility.
In a nutshell: Critically plauded and it is deserved, the performances here are constantly spectacular but realistically so, this is the sort of film which would be destroyed by gloss and glamour. Instead it is grim and raw, the squalor of the hideouts and the unhinged behaviour of Baader are not hidden. Though this no-doubt diverges from established history at times, but you get the distinct impression that it captures a plausible insight into how it really was, how a bunch radicals became a genuine threat to the stability of the country and protest evolved into bombings. All were passionate, but not all were moderate.
NOTE: I read that some struggled with the small subtitles, although they were less readable in some scenes (because of the backgrounds), I never found it to be a significant problem.
"The Baader Meinhof Complex" is an absorbing, if somewhat overlong film about the 1970's West German left wing terrorist group, the Red Army Faction(RAF) aka the Baader Meinhof Group. It covers the period from 1967 to 1977, starting with the groups emergence from a period of left wing student radicalism to it's slow demise after a period of appalling,futile bloodletting.The film focuses on the main protagonists in the group and their organisation of a number of violent attacks on American military bases, police stations and leading industrialists and bankers. The violence is quite graphic at times, showing car bombs exploding, badly injured and burned bodies and close up machine gunnings. Certainly anyone watching the film will be made aware of the murderous fanaticism of the RAF and their callous disregard for human life. "The Ends Justify the Means" could have been their motto. It was interesting watching this period of history unfold on the movie screen and the story of the RAF is told well. However the film does lose it's way, like the terrorists , once the leadership are interred in prison. Too much time is spent with the terrorists in various prison scenes and court room appearances and the dynamic of the film suffers as a result. Also there were some problems with character development and continuity as new characters appeared on screen with the viewer having no idea who they were. That said , "The Baader Meinhof Complex" is one of the better German language films that I have seen recently,but not up there with the excellent "Downfall", "The Counterfeiters" or "The Lives of Others" in my opinion.
on 15 January 2013
The B-M complex is a fascinating political film. Part historical, part human drama but always riveting. It captures well that period in Germany when revolution seemed in the air, when the forces of consumerism seemed to eat at the soul. What is powerfully describes is how the slide from revolutionary action to anarchy and random violence is so easy. The characters are not especially attractive but driven, the forces of law and order are equally unpleasant. The acting is excellent, the period detail spot on and this is a great film
on 12 September 2011
I love subtitled German films they create an air of further mystery and suspension. I grow up in the 1970's and was used to seeing the Baader Meinhof gang on the national television but I never realised what they stood for. The film was a good description of how they rose as a group of people to become German terrorists. Recommended if you like German films.
on 2 February 2011
A very interesting movie about the Baader Meinhof Gang (or the Red Army Faction as they called themselves), a German extreme left terror group which killed dozens of people in the 1970s, basically, policemen and businessmen. The RAF was a small group of young people who have cut their teeth in the student protests of the late 1960s and who become radicalized a few years later. Though it had few members (at its heyday, it has less than a hundred members) it commanded some moral support from intellectuals and students. It remains something of a mystery what turned some of the young people of Germany in the 1970s (then, like now, among the wealthiest nations in Earth) into the path of political violence (just like we still wonder what turn the Germans to the Nazis in the 1930s). In part, as the movie shows, it was a reaction to the violence unleashed by the US towards the Vietnamese people in the Vietnam war. But the film also suggests that some of them were also spoiled and politically very naive. It is striking that in few others Western countries we saw the rise of such violent groups in that era. In a review, Christopher Hitchens thoughtfully noted that the three western countries where there were violent terror groups in the 1970s were Germany, Italy and Japan - perhaps not by chance, the three members of the Axis. Maybe, he hipothesizes, these militants were trying to show that they could react against authority in a way that their parents didn't a generation back.
Starting with an amusing and somewhat shocking intro in a nudist beach (which in many countries it could not have been filmed for legal reasons), this film was made by writer-producer team that made Downfall. Perhaps not by chance Bruno Ganz appears here as a security chief whose role is to combat from the shadows the Red Army Faction. When Ganz appears, I couldn't help but remember his brilliant performance of the Fuhrer in that great film (other actors of that movie also appear in bits; Ganz top aide, for example, is played by Heino Ferch, who was Albert Speer in Downfall). There are fine performances all around. One of the terrorist leaders (a former journalist and the less fanatic of the leadership trio) is played by the actress who played the troubled wife of the playwright in the Lives of Others. Long but rewarding, the filmmakers, as they shown in Downfall, clearly know how to make an interesting, intelligent and entertaining film out of the controversial past.
I read that some relatives of the victims of RAF's violence complained that the movie was biased towards the terrorists, but I found that it was in fact quite critical towards them. I would probably have changed the finale, though (and why not show, like in Downfall, what happened to the different characters in real life after the events depicted here).