The Baader Meinhof Complex Review
The Baader Meinhof Group (more properly known as the Red Army Faction) was one of the most notorious radical-left terrorist groups, operating in West Germany from the late 1960s, especially during the “German Autumn” of 1977. Based on Stefan Aust's book – Aust acted as consultant to the film - The Baader Meinhof Complex tells the story. The film concentrates on the group's three leaders.. The RAF was founded by Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu) and Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek). Fired by the protests in support of exiled Persians by the visit of the Shah of Iran in 1967 and further inspired by the revolutionary ideals of the 1968 student protest movement, Baader and Ensslin set fire to two Frankfirt department stores and were arrested. Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck) at the time was a left-wing journalist who published articles in support of Baader and Ensslin. After they were paroled, Baader, Meinhof, Ensslin and Horst Mahler (Simon Licht) went to Jordan for guerilla warfare training from the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). And so the RAF was formed, and a campaign of bank robberies and bombings began. The film takes us up to the leaders' imprisonment and trial. Their deaths in custody – officially suicides but conspiracy theorists disagree – are left ambiguous.
The remarkable thing about The Baader Meinhof Complex is that, German dialogue apart, it is a large-budget commercial feature, with known actors in the lead roles, about a terrorist organisation. It's impossible to imagine its equivalent being made in the UK or USA. Inevitably it will be accused of glamourising its central characters, but I don't think it does. Instead, it allows the viewer to make their own judgement, without soft-pedalling the violence of the RAF's actions. Even so, it's hard to avoid that some of the RAF's members, the women in particular, were something like pin-ups in the more radical-chic households of the time. Baader, on the other hand, comes across as more than borderline psychopathic and, ironically given the prominence of women in the organisation, distinctly chauvinistic as well.
Director/co-writer Uli Edel and producer/screenwriter Bernd Eichinger have never been ones to spare the sensibilities of the more delicate audience members, not with films like Christiane F and the English-language Last Exit to Brooklyn in their back catalogue. (On the other hand, Edel made the U-certificate children's film The Little Vampire in 2000. Apart from the TV-miniseries-derived Sword of Xanten, this is his first big-screen feature since then.) Squeamish viewers be warned: Edel does not stint in his depiction of the RAF's crimes, and this is a brutally violent film in places. The subject-matter would not seem to lend itself to humour, but there is some: Baader giving his lawyer a lesson in pickpocketing, the women offending the PLO's Arab sensibilities by sunbathing nude.
Some prior knowledge of the events may be useful (so mug up on Wikipedia beforehand if you need to) but the principal storyline is clear enough. Edel and Eichinger move the film at a brisk clip, telling a complex story in an efficient two and a half hours. Whatever your political stance, The Baader Meinhof Complex is another noteworthy example (after Downfall and The Lives of Others to name but two) of German cinema dealing intelligently with its own country's recent past.