The Baader-Meinhof Complex

Film
3 out of 5 stars
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Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars
Strange to say, for a movie pitched as an extended historical action-adventure, director Uli Edel’s equally fascinating and frustrating portrait of the formation, terrorist activities and imprisonment of the later-named Red Army Faction (RAF) from 1967 to 1977 may be too subtle for its own good.

Based on Stefan Aust’s non-fiction bestseller and prefaced with the ever suspicious claim ‘a true story’, his film opens on the exclusive, partly nudist, Baltic holiday island of Sylt in June 1967, as Janis Joplin plays on the soundtrack and we see the German journalist and mother Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck) observe the regimented ‘freedoms’ of the late ’60s privileged bourgeoisie. Meinhof is one of three main characters on which the film rovingly concentrates – many are seen, few are identified – alongside criminally enthusiastic RAF co-founder Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu) and his anti-authoritarian, pastor’s-daughter girlfriend, Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek).

But it is Meinhof’s unpredictable conversion from radical writer to full-blown ‘revolutionary’ which is at the heart of this episodic film’s essential mystery. She aids a bold rescue mission to spring the imprisoned Baader, takes an increasingly important role in the faction’s tactics and organisation, even abandoning her children to a Palestinian camp, before cracking up in Stammheim prison.

One of the most expensive recent German films, ‘The Baader Meinhof Complex’ has a good pedigree among its makers. Its eclectic producer and writer, Bernd Eichinger, was responsible not only for ‘Downfall’ but also one of the seminal cinematic inquiries into the Nazi heritage with Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s ‘Hitler: A Film from Germany’. Edel, with films including ‘Last Exit to Brooklyn’, has shown a creative taste for Hollywood-style spectacle and a bold, often savage, insight into the  workings of murky and violent human passions.

Cultural and dramatic competence is in evidence here, but  this is a film more intent to show rather than understand. It’s also more content to present an admittedly compelling and relevant ‘factual’ history but loath to offer any profound social, political or psychological analysis of its protagonists. As such, this is a film that’s bound to disappoint and bemuse as much as it intrigues.

The reconstructions are impressive, notably the violent response of supporters of the Shah of Iran and riot police to a Berlin demonstration which, legend has it, concentrated the mind of the left and provided the foundations for the Baader-Meinhof gang’s support. Also remarkable are the evocations of the ideas, conflicts and contradictions of the time.

At two and a half hours, it’s a risky, if laudable, strategy to outline a decade-long chronicle of events – arson attacks, bank raids, assassinations and kidnappings – without adopting, or privileging, a fully developed character with whom the audience can relate to or identify. As an action-packed pageant of events it is  excitingly demonstrative and provocative, but as human drama it proves a mite too enigmatic and unyielding.

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Details

Release details

Rated:
18
Release date:
Friday November 14 2008
Duration:
150 mins

Cast and crew

Director:
Uli Edel
Cast:
Martina Gedeck
Moritz Bleibtreu
Johanna Wokalek