The Baader Meinhof Complex
Directed by Uli Edel
Article originally written for Static Multimedia
I’ll be the first to admit that my knowledge of world history and monumental events that occurred pre-1990 is nothing short of pathetic. I am definitely not what you would call a “buff.” With that being said, it should come to no surprise to you that before watching The Baader Meinhof Complex (Der Baader Meinhof Komplex), I knew little to nothing about the German terrorist group the Red Army Faction (RAF) or the impact they had on both European and world history. So I will not be able to partake in the argument as to whether or not the film is historically and factually accurate. Instead, I will judge the film on the success that it has on being just that, a film.
Like I stated above, the extremely well done yet shockingly violent docudrama focuses on the Red Army Faction and begins in the late 60s where we see fascist uprisings lead a group of young rebellious adults to form the infamous militant group. The film’s narrative focuses on RAF’s three most influential characters whom I will refer to as the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. All three of them were there from the early formation of the group and all succumbed to the same demise at the end.
First will be the Good, Ulrike Meinhof, who after ditching her two-timing husband becomes a distinguished journalist for the popular German magazine The Kronket. Because she shares the same opinions as the radical terrorist group and is able to construct them so beautifully on paper, it doesn’t take her long to become the voice of the Red Army Faction. Second we have the Bad, Gudrun Ensslin, a young German woman who is so fed up with social disorder that she ditches her boyfriend and new-born child to participate in RAF and chalks it up as a “sacrifice for the cause.” And lastly there is the Ugly, Andreas Baader, who is by no means bad looking but rather charmingly charismatic despite the fact that he might be a tad psychotic. I never could figure out if Baader even wanted positive results to come from RAF’s reign of chaos because he enjoyed participating in them so much.
These three, along with the many other delinquent youngsters that made up RAF, effectively send ripples through the German government by implementing popular terrorist actions like bombings, kidnapping and murder. But when the Federal German Police, led by Chief Horst Herald, throws the hammer down on the Red Army Faction with a series of socially designed tactics, it doesn’t take long before all of the influential members of RAF are behind bars. We then follow the Good, the Bad and the Ugly during their long and complicated German trial. During this time the remaining members of RAF who are not behind bars carry out a string of ruthless murders and kidnapping, known in history books as the German Autumn, in an attempt to get their imprisoned brothers released.
The story that The Baader Meinhof Complex sets out to tell is the reason the movie is so compelling because it does so in a way that is both informative and entertaining. Directed by Uli Edel and written and produced by Bernd Eichinger who before this film is best known for writing and producing the magnificent Downfall, which portrayed the last years of Adolf Hitler’s life. In many ways The Baader Meinhof Complex, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Picture at this past Oscars, plays like a regular gangster-style shoot ‘em up with your criminals you love to hate and the cop who is right on their trail. The film is even equipped with the oh-so-important scene of the bad guys (Baader and other RAF members), who love living life dangerously as they speed down a street shooting street signs and listening to good old American rock n’ roll. The acting in the film is superb, especially on the parts of Martina Gedeck and Moritz Bleibtreu, who portray Meinhof and Baader.
However, I do have a gripe on the development of some of the film’s central characters, particularly Ulrike Meinhof. The film never fully expresses her motivation in choosing to live such a chaotic lifestyle. She was a single mother who directly stated in the film that she could never leave her two children for RAF’s cause, only to leave them for RAF’s cause. The character was developed in the film as someone who is a rational thinker but then makes a series of poor mistakes. Of course, the filmmakers get off the hook if they didn’t find these kinds of emotions necessary to explain because after all, this is a true story and this is how it happened. Maybe no one knows why this sane, talented woman chose such a violent life.
The reason the The Baader Meinhof Complex works is because it turns an important history lesson into an exciting movie to watch with plenty of action, humor and suspense to take you along for the ride. And like all great history lessons, it leaves you with an important message. The blood shed and mayhem that is created in the wake of political terrorism almost always comes with the same end result that the Good, the Bad and the Ugly succumb to in this film. All the meaning and purpose that these radicals have boils down to nothing but just pointless loss of human life in the end. And the film’s very last scene sends shivers down your spine and leaves you asking yourself the question, what is the point to all of this violence? The Baader Meinhof Complex is in limited theatrical release now and will open up wider in weeks to come.
Review: 3 out of 4 stars