Probably as accurate an account of the RAF as any we'll see
Jul 14, 2011
Based on the authoritative biographical text by Stefan Aust, this fourth collaboration from Uli Edel and Bernd Eichinger (of Christiane F. fame) examines the Red Army Faction's eventful first decade. While the group's famed terrorist activities are afforded flashy reenactments in the style of an action film, Edel's primary goal is to convey these incidents and the individuals who planned and executed them as they were.
Here, the critical elements of the group's contradictory, open-ended brand of Marxist-Leninist socialism are emphasized as both a means to define the characters' political motivations and to provide a narrative context for the movie's abundant violence. This is just as well; when faint hints of their imagined ideal society are mentioned in passing, it seems as absurd (though no less credible) as when they're spouting Marxist doctrine or quoting Mao. But then, it's amazing that women as intelligent as Ulrike Meinhof and Gudrun Ensslin could force themselves to adopt such specious, inflexible convictions.
The primary asset of this feature is an abundance of phenomenal performances by a selection of veterans and relative unknowns, nearly all of whom bear impressive resemblances to the people they're portraying. As RAF founders Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin, the likeness of Moritz Bleibtreu and Johanna Wokalek is stunning and they're totally convincing as the manic, fearless, foolhardy, doomed couple. However, the film's magnetic lead role is that of Meinhof, played with smoldering surety by Martina Gedeck. Still one of the loveliest living women onscreen, Gedeck couldn't be more ideal for the role: she's no stranger to postwar period films and excels in playing introverts. Transformed into the plain (though weirdly attractive) journalist-turned-insurgent, her dour interpretation of Meinhof as an embittered advocate of radicalism couldn't be more accurate. For most of the film, Gedeck serves as a calm counterpoint to Bleibtreu's and Wokalek's forceful passion. Equally comparable in appearance and manner to second-generation RAF head Brigitte Mohnhaupt, Nadja Uhl ably conveys the ruthlessness of the infamous "most evil woman in Germany." In the meantime, Bruno Ganz is given considerably less to do as Bundeskriminalamt director Horst Herold, whose methods in opposition to the group bore mixed results. Although Ganz could easily be confused with Herold and is only credible in his role, the philosophical concerns voiced by the BKA chief seem oddly inauthentic and are never really addressed, anyhow. Sebastian Blomberg fares better as Marxist student demonstrator Rudi Dutschke (for whom he's also a dead ringer), but predictably, he's afforded little screen time. I'd hoped that as the notorious Horst Mahler, Simon Licht would also have a larger role but nonetheless, he makes the most of his relatively brief function as the ill-famed lawyer.
Nearly as impressive as the cast, Bernd Lepel's production design provides the film with terrific period authenticity. The production's clothing, sets, vehicles and hairstyles are likely to induce nostalgia in anyone who lived through Helmut Schmidt's era. Quite a few of the many enacted spectacles are extraordinary to see: the Deutsch Oper House riot; the RAF's numerous bombings, assassinations and bank robberies; Hanns Schleyer's bloody kidnapping. While Edel's chief intention was to coax the most realistic performances possible from his cast, he and his crew have also depicted the violent chaos of these incidents with vivid detail and energy, a thick dollop of the zeitgeist that archived press clippings and news reports merely provide a fleeting impression of.
Obviously, most of the running time is occupied by the Baader-Meinhof Gang, who enjoy the bulk of character examination, but their successors and the adversarial authorities are granted equally objective portrayals, none of which are terribly flattering. Many of this movie's detractors argue that the RAF is glorified herein, its members presented as the romantic outlaws that so many disaffected citizens imagined that they were. This claim might hold water if Meinhof wasn't shown to be a neglectful mother, Baader an obnoxious lunatic, Ensslin and Mohnhaupt and Jan-Carl Raspe all callous sociopaths. Performed with excruciating intensity by Stipe Erceg, Holger Meins' slow death of self-starvation is terribly moving, but he's clearly piteous rather than virtuous. As an organization, the first-generation RAF are revealed as disorganized, prone to in-fighting and frequently inept. Though the silliness of their political discourse is is downplayed, it's outright risible in some scenes, occasionally to the detriment of the movie's dramatic impact. Relentlessly paced to enliven a thrilling succession of action scenes and offset the lengthy 150-minute running time, Edel barely slows down to examine Meinhof's personal issues, the most important of which are barely addressed. Character development here is nonexistent, and far from being a flaw, it's only one aspect of an honest portrayal. However, the decision to neglect the interrelationships within the group (especially the lusty, tumultuous Baader-Ensslin pairing) was a mistake that results in a film with too little emotional depth. Until they're at their worst, emotionally deteriorating and slowly turning on one another while incarcerated at Stammheim Prison, they barely discuss anything other than their agenda and political ambitions.
Years ago, I read a terrific article written in the mid-'70s by a commentator who found himself bewildered by the vicious brutality inflicted by so many attractive, buttoned-down jungen erwachsenen. Over the course of this film's 150-minute running time, this incongruity serves as a constant reminder of just how appealing extremism can be to the politically disenfranchised. While Baader was essentially a charismatic street punk who adopted his anarchistic lifestyle as a means to engage in criminality with ostensible purpose and substance, Meinhof's own perspective was confirmed by the gradual disintegration of her personal life and her government's reprehensible allegiances. In retrospect, the RAF could be considered a bane to western society in the service of the cruelest secular ideological stream in human history. From another perspective, their appeal seems obvious when one considers the present: unfettered, transnational corporations do whatever they please whenever they please, no matter how reprehensible, defended by the dumbest empire ever to lord over the Earth and its parasitic west Asian "ally." In the meantime, legitimate culture withers away as its increasingly artless and degenerate popular successor convinces youth that indignant blogging, self-indulgent rallies and (most hilarious of all) voting are the best ways to vent one's spleen, and only ever in regard to the "correct" topics. The result: populations in which the most substantial dissent is unfashionable, critical thinking is discouraged, the high arts disregarded. Why? TV told you so.
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
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 … 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 ...