The Baader Meinhof Complex **
R, 150min, 2009
Directed by Uli Edel
Screenplay by Bernd Eichinger based upon the book by Stefan Aust
by Benji Carver
The Baader Meinhof Complex is a shallow, uneven, overly-long historical drama made better by good performances and a strong visual flair. The film covers too many characters in too little time and has nothing to do with revolutionary times of the 60's.
That the film ends with Bob Dylan's song, "Blowin in the Wind", doesn't make it any better.
It comes as no surprise this film is a pet project from the Euro-producer Bernd Eichinger of Fantastic Four and Resident Evil fame. The film prefers action and episodic structure over character development and human drama. Eichinger call this style of filmmaking "Fragdramatige:" a new term for impatient storytelling. In their effort to make the film accurate and unbiased, the filmmakers forgot to ensure we care about and can follow the numerous characters.
This is the most expensive German film ever made, with a reported budget of 20 million euros, and comes riding a wave of controversies in Germany about the events portrayed. It was also a lead contender at the 2009 Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film, just one year after another German film, The Lives of Others, won the award.
The film covers the beginning years of the communist youth terrorist group, the Red Army Faction (RAF) of Germany, the controversial trial of its lead members in 1976, and the ritualistic suicide of several of the group members in 1977.
The group was created by left-wing German youth in response to the growing student protests of the Vietnam War and the police state many believed then existed in West Germany.
The RAF in the film started out involved with student political rallies in 1967. Then, after the assassination attempt on a head speaker Derrick Meins by a right wing student in 1968, things turn ugly as Baader and his girlfriend bomb a clothing store in response. They are tried and sent to prison. Meinhof joins the group breaking Baader out a few years later to help them recruit students to rob banks, bomb military outposts, and kidnap German political officials in 1970s.
While the ads for the film suggest it is about the radical times of the late 60's and growing up in a post-Nazi German government, in reality it covers the 70's and the events revolving around terror acts committed by RAF on German military and newspapers.
The part of Baader is played by Moritz Bleibtru of Run Lola Run. Baader's girlfriend, Gudrun Ensslin, is played by Johanna Wokalek, journalist Ulkra Meinhof is played Martina Gedeck (from The Lives of Others), and Didrick Meins portrays a student activist.
The actors deliver fine performances given the material provided them. However, the actors are way too good looking compared to the real-life characters they are portraying. Further, the so-called "Bonnie and Clyde syndrome" shows its face here with Baader and Ensslin being portrayed as gun-slinging rebels.
The real Ulkra Meinhof lived quite a different life than what the film portrays. She was a respected left-wing journalist and filmmaker who started the RAF as a means to express her position on feminisim. She was the active voice of the RAF with several of her leaflets becoming scripture to later generations of the RAF. She was arrested with much of the first generation RAF group for several bombings and robberies. She committed suicide in 1977 during their lengthy and wild trial at Stammheim Prison. The film presents her as a strong character at first, but her character gets lost in the film's second hour, during which too many other characters are introduced.
The film offers a few scenes depicting the ever-lasting correlation between so-called terrorism and government conflict. These scenes bring contemporary figures such as Osama Bin Laden and Hammas, into focus, noting that what we call terrorism today has long been with us. The film also points out that advancing technology is increasing the level of violence and death.
The film brings to mind the classic saying "Your terrorist is my freedom fighter." The problem with the RAF, as portrayed in this film, is expressed by Baader when he tells a Palestinian fighter, "Fucking and shooting are the same thing in a revolution. Am I right?" The film ends on an honest note all but lost in the chaos it has created with its considerable length: perhaps these activists lost their way on the path to becoming liberators and were duped into following a group of violent anarchists.