The Baader Meinhof complex [videorecording (DVD)]. 2 discs. Presented by Constantin Film and Bernd Eichinger; directed by Uli Edel; written and produced by Bernd Eichinger; co-writer, Uli Edel; director of photography, Rainer Klausmann; executive producer, Martin Moszkowicz; a production of Constantin Film in co-production with Nouvelles Éditions de Films and G.T. Film Production and NDR … [et al.]. Based on the book by Stefan Aust.
Performers: Martina Gedeck, Moritz Bleibtreu, Johanna Wokalek, Nadja Uhl, Stipe Erceg, Niels Bruno Schmidt, Vinzenz Kiefer, Simon Licht, Alexandra Maria Lara, Daniel Lommatzsch, Sebastian Blomberg, Heino Ferch, Jan Josef Liefers, Hannah Herzsprung, Tom Schilling, Bruno Ganz.
Summary: Germany 1967. Murderous bomb attacks, the threat of terrorism, and the fear of the enemy inside are rocking the very foundations of the still-fragile German democracy. The radicalized children of the Nazi generation, led by Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof, and Gudrun Ensslin, are fighting a violent war against what they perceive as the new face of fascism.
If you throw one stone it’s a crime. If you throw a thousand stones, that’s a political action. - Ulrike Meinhof
I’m ashamed to admit that prior to watching this film I didn’t know much about the Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF), aka the Baader Meinhof group, a terrorist faction active in Germany in the 1960s and 1970s. I’d only heard about it vaguely and seen a few snippets of present film.
Though relatively little known in the U.S., the activities of the RAF are still a subject of great interest and fascination, if not quite nostalgia, in Germany. Revolution was in the air in 1967-68, and Baader Meinhof’s principal targets were American militarist expansionism and interventionism, especially in the Middle East and Southeast Asia; the creeping authoritarianism in their own country; and the excesses of capitalist greed everywhere. The RAF’s rampage peaked in the 1970s, when their swath of terror included bombings, murder, kidnapping and hijacking.
Those of us of certain years are old enough to remember similar movements, protests and riots of the late 60s and early 70s in this country, and Baader Meinhof Complex does a nice job of capturing the flavor of the times both from the standpoint of the passionate revolutionaries and the beleaguered forces of established order. It’s to the filmmakers’ credit that the story walks such a fine line of not taking sides, presenting events objectively and portraying each side in a neutral, faintly sympathetic light.
BMC is a brilliantly edited and well-paced piece of work, albeit with a few slow patches. The film is done in a semi-documentary style in the manner of much better known movies like Day of the Jackal, though in this case the message is presented in far more visceral fashion. To wit, amongst the best scenes is one of the earliest: a virtuoso recreation of the demonstration against the Shah of Iran’s visit, the subsequent riot, and, most important, the excessive police response.
Kudos to the relentlessly edgy performances by the principals who play the historical figures, and who incidentally bear uncanny resemblances to the originals. The male leads all do a fine job, but even with the presence of such a heavyweight as the great Bruno Ganz, it’s the women who walk away with top acting honors. The always compelling Martina Gedeck gives another finely nuanced performance, here as journalist turned revolutionary Ulricke Meinhof. Likewise for Nadja Uhl as Brigitte Mannhaupt, the leader of the RAF’s ‘second generation.’ But the real standout is the steely faced, unbending Johanna Wokalek as Baader’s girlfriend and the group’s motivator-on-chief, Gudrun Ensslin.
Regardless of one’s ideological bent, BMC will inspire an emotional roller coaster of anger, bewilderment, and, for some viewers, grudging admiration. More than just a formidable technical accomplishment, this is one terrific movie that ranks right up there with the best political films ever, in spite of, or just maybe because, it plays it down the middle. My only complaint is that at an intense 144 minutes it goes on a bit too long.
Further reading: Christopher Hitchens, Once Upon a Time in Germany, Vanity Fair, August 17, 2009; J. Smith, Andre Moncourt, The Red Army Faction: A Documentary History, Vol.1: Projectiles for the People, PM Press, 2009.