The Baader Meinhof Complex is an at once exhilarating and horrific depiction of the rise and fall of a very prominent left-wing extremist group in '70s Germany, formed from an uneasy alliance between journalist Ulrike Meinhof and the incendiary couple Andreas Baader and his girlfriend Gudrun Ensslin. The film explores the initial motivations for their radicalization, the shift from anger and rebellion to increasingly violent acts of terror, and the dissolution of the group's ideology into seeming incoherence as the personal began to overwhelm the political. While watching I wondered if the casting choices had made the characters more appealing than in real life - they were all very striking young men and women - but a bit of research shows it to be quite accurate. They did a remarkable job in capturing the likeness of the actual individuals depicted.
It is a complex film, that highlights the allure of the struggle, at the same time as it reveals the individuals behind it to be deeply human and imperfect, at times conflicted and at others resolute, even dogmatic, to the point of becoming what they had initially struggled against - these are not the mythological figures that came to be idolized by some and hated by others. A fascinating paradox explored by the film is that in war one side inevitably takes on qualities of its enemy: to fight an underground extremist group, the state must employ its tactics, must become flexible and bend the rule of law and its protection of individual rights such as privacy; to stand up against the force of a powerful regime, the anarchic underground must increasingly become autocratic, must not tolerate dissent.
The film is beautifully shot, and edited for an ideal balance of intensity and clarity. There is the feel of a living situation - characters don't have constantly to explain themselves to each other, and you feel the urgency with which they experience their own moments in time - and yet, there is enough laid out that even those unfamiliar with the actual history this is based on should be able to catch up quickly and follow along. The decision to incorporate real footage from the era creates a sense of authenticity and even current relevance that is hard to shake off, emphasizing that this film cannot simply be approached as an escapist fantasy. The reception of the film in Germany at the time of its release was telling - on the one hand there were those who felt that in taking both sides the film failed to capture the heroism and ideals of the leaders, who are still revered by many; and there were others who felt that the decision to tell most of the story from the point of view of the Baader Meinhof group members had the dangerous potential of creating an identification with them and of making their actions seem too glamorous.
In fact the film manages both to clarify and make vividly real the sense of a holy war or struggle that young people felt at the time, and to show that these extremists were not simply the vicious killers they had been demonized to be; but also to demonstrate that their ideals and imperfections led to horrific actions, that in many cases destroyed lives without having any clear outcome that could possibly motivate or justify such violence. I was very young at the time of these events and only remember vague hints of them, but even now going into the film I knew very little of the details. Definitely worth watching -- both as a valuable history lesson, and as a spur to the kinds of discussions that we need to be having about the meaning and motivations of what we call "terrorism." As the German head of police, played in this film by the always excellent Bruno Ganz, suggests: it is easy enough to demonize the "enemy" but there can be no true or lasting victory over extremism and violence without understanding its perpetrators and their perceptions.
This was Germany's entry in the 81st academy awards. It is tough, gritty and a fast-paced thriller that covers the birth of the RAF movement. A knowledge of the true events may aid in the appreciation of this thriller but I thought this film was well-executed. It still stands as a compelling portrayal of extremism and perhaps of terrorism. Full review here.
Germany's Official submission to the Academy Awards; this film was nominated for the best foreign language film awards in the 81st Oscars. Director Uli Edel’s “BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX” is a look at the events that had transpired between 1967-1977 in West Germany. It chronicles the events that led to the organization of the West German militant group called the Red Army Faction (RAF) by Ulrike Meinhof and Andreas Baader. The film is based on the non-fiction … more
A subject of enduring fascination for Germans (and anybody interested in the more vivid manifestations of the '60s counterculture), the Baader Meinhof gang roared through Europe for years, dividing a population that either demonized or romanticized their exploits. In The Baader Meinhof Complex the goal for director Uli Edel (Last Exit to Brooklyn) and screenwriter Bernd Eichinger is to play the material down the middle: to portray the events of the outlaw group without deciding they are either heroes or terrorists. Some of the motives for the Baader Meinhof gang are laid out early on; for instance, that for the generation born in Germany after Hitler's nightmare had ended, a return to fascism was unacceptable--even to the point of guerrilla activities against the state. Some of Germany's biggest stars are involved in bringing the principals to life, including Moritz Bleibtreu (Run Lola Run) as the self-important ringleader Andreas Baader and Johanna Wokalek (North Face) as Gudrun Ensslin, his co-conspirator and lover. The most intriguing narrative thread of the story comes from the decision by journalist Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck, from The Lives of Others) to leap from her stable life and abruptly join Baader and Ensslin on the run. The subversive activities of the Red Army Faction (as the group dubbed itself), including bombings and arson attacks, are chronicled in rapid, blunt fashion by the movie, which seems less interested in a thoughtful reflection on ...