It's fitting that I'd review this film on the same day as "Five Minutes Of Heaven," even though I saw them months apart. I saw the Neeson film at Sundance this year, and I saw "The Baader-Meinhof Complex" here at my house about six days ago. Aside from thematic similarities, they both spring from the same DNA. Bernd Eichinger, the producer and screenwriter of this movie, was also the producer of Oliver Hirschbiegel's "Downfall." Eichinger casts a huge shadow over the German film industry, having worked with basically everyone, so it's little wonder there's some overlap with these two movies. Coincidence aside, they'd make a great double-feature.
It's hard to imagine growing up in post-Nazi Germany. It's even harder to imagine how it would feel to see the seeds of that movement continue to thrive, no matter what the country claimed to the world. The profound anger and moral horror that would awaken in someone goes a long way to explaining the attitudes of the students portrayed in "The Baader-Meinhof Complex," although obviously, this is a film about people driven by righteous impulses to do horrible, misguided things. It's this environment that gives rise to a culture where a pseudo-revolutionary thug like Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu) and a theoretical activist like Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck) can not only find some common ground to one another, but can also find a willing army of followers, ready to act on the provocations they lay down.
The Red Army Faction, a student militia that was responsible for bombings and bank robberies, is a perfect encapsulation of the way radical '60s politics failed, and director Uli Edel does a spectacular job of capturing the time and the chaos of what was going on. Because he never comes down on one side or the other, instead simply presenting the events dispassionately, showing how everyone made insane mistakes and how things escalated, leading to some awful, wrenching events.
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I'm not surprised to learn that this was fairly controversial when it came out in Germany. The film plays up the seductive adrenaline rush of revolution, and Baader and his chick Gudrun (Johanna Wokalek) look like '60s rock stars, lanky and sexy and vaguely dirty. The success of their movement was due to the politics of the day just as much as was due to the cult of personality that erupted around some of these key players. The fact that the film plays up the rush must strike anyone who lived through these events as exploitative, but I don't think that's the point. I think Edel wants to make this experiential rather than objective, and he pulls it off pretty well overall.
Edel's a strange filmmaker. He has made some really strong, ballsy movies over the years like the harrowing "Christiane F." and the jet-black "Last Exit To Brooklyn," but he's also made pure-bred crap like "The Little Vampire" and "Body Of Evidence." I think he's at his best when he's given tough material, because he doesn't get hung up on making people sympathetic. He's far more interested in behavior, good or bad, and he doesn't seem like he feels the need to moralize, trusting us to have our own reactions to some of the insane behavior on display.
His ensemble cast does nice work here, and the film mixes documentary footage with recreations in a way that is almost invisible. As the Red Army Faction falls apart and implodes, plagued by a crumbling sense of mission and political persecution, the film becomes a study of how revolutions fail because of basic human flaws. The message becomes less and less important, and greed and malice and anger end up sabotaging almost everything these people try to do. The violence is staged in a way that's meant to be disturbing, and that's another of Edel's strengths as a filmmaker. He doesn't glamorize violence, but he also doesn't wallow in it. He makes sure that everything that happens has an impact, in some cases physical, and in some cases philosophical.
In the end, "The Baader-Meinhof Complex" serves as an interesting counterpoint to Spielberg's "Munich," offering up another perspective on those events as well as events leading up to that infamous Olympic tragedy and looking at the fall-out inside Germany. I think there is a place for revolution in this world, and there are times when it becomes essential, but I don't think it's just about slogans and violence and burning things down. That leads only to failure, and it's a shame that some of the genuine concerns that led these people to make such radical choices got lost in the funhouse of their own fury. It's absolutely worth seeing, and it's opening in limited release around the country right now.
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