I’m just too young to have memories of the Baader Meinhof group and the RAF, but they did manage to find their way into my childhood memories. They were infamous names, spelling terror to a prepubescent brain. Not unsurprising then, that eventually their story would be translated into a film. The main culprit here is Stefan Aust, who wrote the (allegedly) definite book on the German militant. This book was used by director Uli Edel for a film that stays just underneath two and a half hours.
As you know, this year I abuse the Avenue for the contemporary reviews I’d usually have written elsewhere and which normally only end up here at the end of the year in the form of a Best Of Year list. But Der Baader Meinhof Komplex also deserves a mention at a cult site because of the director. Uli Edel’s filmography is overlooked by many, but apart from the Madonna vehicle Body of Evidence, Edel also directed (a.o.) Christiane F. and Last Exit To Brooklyn as well as an episode of Twin Peaks.
The film’s English tagline sort of spells out the RAF’s initial idea: “The children of the Nazi generation vowed fascism would never rule their world again.” According to them, the German visit by the Persian shah and the American war with Vietnam showed clearly the world hadn’t learned anything from history and protests were mandatory. Protests led to violence and the right-wing tabloids dubbed the anti-fascists as communists. And, when two protesters were killed, Andreas Baader and a couple of friends thought it was time for phase two, the fascists in power and the soulless capitalists had to be told the violent way the new generation didn’t like their ideas.
Edel neatly divides his film into two halves. In the middle of the film Baader, Ensslin and Meinhof are arrested and two new things start. On the one hand the Baader Meinhof trial, on the other hand the ‘birth’ of the second generation of the RAF. Edel makes sure his characters are shown as individuals, without ridiculising or idolising them. Especially Baader isn’t portrayed as the most stable person and his mix of neurotic tics and machismo may be a little off-putting (then again, compare it to the tv series Life on Mars and question whether the anti-feminist lingo wasn’t just a sign of the times).
Baader is portrayed by Moritz Bleibtreu, an actor who apparently is contractually obliged to be in every German movie made. Actually, that isn’t true: Bleibtreu seems to have a good nose to get a role in films that are also released outside of Germany, which just gives you the wrong impression he’s omnipresent. Baader’s girlfriend Gudrun Ensslin is played by Johanna Wokalek, who I hadn’t seen before but is a great lead. Martina Gedeck portrays the journalist turned terrorist Ulrike Meinhof. Gedeck’s filmography includes a lot of German tv work, but you may remember her from movies like Das Leben der Anderen and The Good Shephard.
We should also mention the RAF member Petra Schelm, not because that role was played by Alexandra Maria Lara, who has been mentioned on DV before (mainly because of the Anton Corbijn movie Control – anyway, she’s the girl running away from the car above).
Enough of the cast and history, how is Der Baader Meinhof Komplex moviewise? Well, as you may know it was the most expensive German film ever and this is clear when you look at all the details in the movie. The goofs section at the IMDb is quite small for a film that lasts well over two hours. Some of it is even dubious, i.e. the alleged goof that one should play a 1970 song (Child in time) during a series of news bulletins from 1969. Maybe it was played there because that song told more about the items in the flashback than “In the year 2525” by Zager & Evans?
The bad news about this good news is that because of the high accuracy and budget it’s also the sort of film that doesn’t have this personal touch that lifts a movie from good to excellent. Essentially you spend 140 minutes watching a well-played history piece and it’s all good but it doesn’t have a swimming pool scene like Cat People does, nor does it have a bank robbery scene like Gun Crazy. BBC3 has a silly show where girls can get a make-under (i.e. get rid of all the excess make-up) and people in the street are given photos of the girls and are asked whether they would like to shag, marry or avoid the girls before and after the makeunder. Well, in “Shag, Marry or Avoid” terms, Der Baader Meinhof Komplex is the sort of film you’d like to marry whereas movies like Gun Crazy are much more shaggable.
Nevertheless, it’s nice to have some sort of definitive movie on the subject, so let’s end this review by thanking Uli Edel and Stefan Aust.