Starring: Martina Gedeck, Moritz Bleibtreu, Johanna Wokalek, Bruno Ganz, Simon Licht
Runtime: 149 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
Producer Bernd Eichenger (who wrote the film about the last days of Hitler, Downfall) has based his screenplay on the 1980s (revised in the 1990s) book by journalist Stephen Aust who followed the activities at the time. The film has been directed by Uli Edel who made such tough films as Christiane F and Last Exit from Brooklyn as well as some far more commercials films in the US like Body of Evidence with Madonna. Here, he and Eichenger are back with their German roots when they were young film-makers in the 1970s, initially impressed by the causes of the RAF but then disgusted by their ruthlessness and the killing of civilians. This is evident from the film.
The Baader Meinhof Complex is certainly not simple. It is a chronicle of the activities from the late 1960s to the deaths by suicide of the main protagonists ten years later. Events follow events. Characters come and go and we are not sure who they are except that they belong to the RAF. Nevertheless, the film holds the attention as it recreates the period and shows us the RAF in action as well as the members with their interactions and tensions.
Initially, the film concentrates on the wife and mother, leftist journalist, Ulrike Meinhof. She is stirred by the protests of the 1960s. Her husband betrays her and she leaves with her children, only to become involved with giving shelter to Andreas Baader. Eventually, she makes an ideological choice and abandons her children for the RAF causes, wanting to be a voice of reason but caught up in the violent activities. Baader is presented as a narcissistic rabble rouser without too much political savvy but a knack for enthusing followers, especially his girlfriend, Gudrun Ensslin (daughter of a religious minister) who becomes one of the leaders.
Martina Gedeck and Moritz Bleibtreu are strong presences as Meinhoff and Baader. Johanna Wokalek is striking as Ensslin.
The bulk of the film shows the hardening of the group’s determination, their training with the PLO (and Baader’s arrogant superiority, racism and anti-authority stances), their robbing of banks, their increasing terrorist activities as well as the hard line taken by the police (who don’t emerge with much credit with their brutality) and the shrewd chief of police (Bruno Ganz).
Eventually, the heads of the gang are arrested and spend years in gaol and in the courts. Young Germans who do not know the leaders personally join the ranks of the RAF and finally hijack a plane to demand the release of the prisoners. Ulrike Meinhof becomes more depressed and hangs herself. Another leader dies in a hunger strike. After the failure of the hijacking Baader and Ensslin kill themselves in prison.
The film offers little sympathy for the gang’s actions and their setting themselves up as saviours and martyrs.
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