Der Baader Meinhof Komplex
Uli Edel :: Germany :: 2008 :: 2h25
Set up as an action movie/ thriller, the story follows the events of the infamous German 1970s terrorists Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof. Rebelling against the perceived American imperialism (operations in Vietnam and such) and their support by the German state, they created the Red Army Faction (RAF). The RAF launches itself into a seemly endless series of bloody attacks to try to halt the developing capitalist/ nazi society. What starts out as consumer attacks (burning shops) quickly turns into full blown terrorism with murders, kidnappings, robberies and hijacks.
The movie opens with a holiday beach setting which cuts into a Hamburg garden party at which the recently married Ulrike Meinhof reads a letter she wrote criticising the Iranian government. The peacefulness of the written journalistic criticism is broken when she attends a peaceful anti-Iranian government protest which is violently crushed by the police, causing the death of a student. The portrayed gross misconduct of the police is the mythical beginning of the RAF rebellion against the abuses of the elite, as embodied by the forces of the law. The beginnings of thirty years of terrorist attacks.
After the garden party, the film traces the paths of the anti-bourgeois idealistic rebels as they sink into the murky depths of violent gangster hooliganism. The irony of bloodshed to react to bloodshed barely comes out of the sequence, but the most peculiar element missing is the motivation. The movie does not show how you get from protesting in the street to robbing and killing. A miscalculated police response, or some agitated people in a protest, can lead to rocks flying and windows breaking. But this is still a far cry from the RAF’s beating up people, bombs, murder and kidnapping.
The RAF was officially dissolved in 1998, making it all very recent history, with victims and relatives still around. Most people will have a rough idea about the RAF, rendering the actual sequence of violent events somewhat unnecessary. The RAF always had a surprising number of sympathisers, and still does, as they are thought to have kept Germany from a rebirth of fascism. This is far from obvious as far as opinions go. The movie does not take a position on the role of the RAF in History. Neither does the movie suggest why the RAF has been dissolved, what changed? Is the world now better than in 1967? Is the USA less imperialistic? Is capitalism less cruel? The director Mr Edel gets off too lightly when dealing with characters as extreme as Baader and Meinhof (and their following). The movie does not show why they are so anti-capitalist (ex-nazis in the ruling class, power abuse, extreme inequality?) And why was such a degree of violence necessary by Baader-Meinhof? Was it really their ideals which pushed them or was it the East-German Stasi, or were they just hooligans with an excuse?
It is perhaps surprising that the duo Baader and Meinhof do not come off better than they do. Meinhof is portrayed as the intellectual power and Baader as the action leader, but their relationship should have been more intimate than is shown, as the one needs the other. It is a playing field on which most of the movie could have rested. Baader’s girlfriend Gudrun Ensslin embodies both.
Great care has to be taken when filming interpretations of real people and their actions, and when one does take the plunge, as Mr Edel courageously does, there has to be a point. The film, as it stands, leaves you as empty as the violence is depressing. Attempting objectivity, as one tends to do with sensitive subjects, is naive. Historians or witnesses will undoubtedly tell Mr Edel he got some facts wrong. That would of course be regrettable, but not nearly as much as that chance he had to shed some light on that dark chapter in post-war Germany.