The Baader-Meinhof Complex

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Director Edel is probably best known in the West for the embarrassing Body of Evidence, though would rather be remembered for the much better, if incredibly depressing, Last Exit to Brooklyn. This is certainly nearer to the latter, depicting the rise and fall of the Baader-Meinhof group, also known as the Red Army Faction, the terrorist gang whose actions sent Germany into a state of nervous anxiety in the late 70’s. They started off at the end of the sixties, when Europe was in a state of political flux, but became more radical, engaging in bank robberies to fund their activities and then escalating to bombings, assassinations and kidnappings. The leaders were eventually caught – and I trust this isn’t much of a spoiler – dying mysterious deaths in jail, officially called suicide, but suspected by some as being extra-judicial execution.

It’s a generally interesting, but also flawed, approach to the subject matter, because it tries too hard to be even-handed, both humanizing the group, while also being sympathetic to the establishment they sought to bring down. It’s hard to do this, while still generating much emotion, because the viewer is left not really knowing for whom they should “root”. In addition, former journalist Ulrike Meinhof (Gedeck – the picture, above, is the real Meinhof) is initially the focus of the movie’s attention, but the way things unfold (and I’m manfully avoiding any spoilers there) mean that things inevitably have to shift away from her in the latter stages. The movie also faces the inevitable problem of any film based on actual events: reality rarely, if ever, follows a three-act structure, and as a result, either the facts or the drama have to suffer – here, it seems to be the drama, with the story not so much building to a climax as petering out.

That said, the performances are good, particularly Wokalek as Gudrun Ensslin, who has been described as the intellectual head of the RAF. What makes it suitable for inclusion here is the way that both Meinhof and Ennslin are depicted as the driving forces, the engine-room of the Red Army Faction. Andreas Baader (Bleibtreu – who was also the ineffectual boyfriend in Run Lola Run) is depicted as a hot-head, and something of a hypocrite, with a taste for fast cars. It’s clear that Ensslin and Meinhof are the ones that run the group – Baader was, in fact, a high-school dropout and one of the few RAF members who did not attend university. I have vague memories of hearing reports about the group as I grew up; while it was good to have the large blanks in my knowledge filled in, this felt more like a Discovery Channel re-enactment of the RAF’s history, rather than offering anything truly cinematic.

Dir: Uli Edel
Star: Martina Gedeck, Moritz Bleibtreu, Johanna Wokalek, Nadja Uhl

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