Friday, 6 March 2015

Film #30: The Baader Meinhof Complex (18)


Released: 2008
Directed by: Uli Edel
Original title: Der Baader Meinhof Komplex

The Red Army Faction (RAF) is a part of German history about which I know very little, so I was keen to watch this film, particularly as it features some excellent German actors, including Martina Gedeck, Moritz Bleibtreu and Johanna Wokalek.

The film opens with a terrifying depiction of a protest against a visit by a Middle Eastern official, which quickly escalates into violence, police brutality and a fatal shooting. Meanwhile, Rudi Dutschke of the German student movement is shot on the street. Having fled her cheating husband, left-wing journalist Ulrike Meinhof (Gedeck) soon comes into contact with Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin (Bleibtreu and Wokalek). Initially aiming to fight for a fairer society, they begin to rob banks, blow up buildings and shoot police officers. The film follows them from the initial formation of the movement through the height of their activities to their imprisonment and trial. While they sit in prison, the myth that has built up around them attracts a younger generation who move further and further away from the group’s initial objectives.

Obviously the film contains quite a bit of violence, including plenty at the hands of the police, who don’t come off particularly well either. While the focus is on the RAF, there are occasional flashes of the effects their actions had on members of the public who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. One of the best things about the film is undoubtedly Martina Gedeck, who evolves from an intellectual with a family to a violent radical and eventually suffers under the pressure of imprisonment. Johanna Wokalek also gives a fantastic, fiery performance. 

Obviously this is a simplified version of what happened and there probably isn't anything new here for people who remember the era. Equally, there is a danger of glamourizing events for younger people who weren’t alive at the time. The other problem with fitting so many years into just over two hours is that it can be difficult to retain an overview, particularly towards the end of the film when new members keep appearing. Aside from a few key members, most of the RAF members depicted are barely even named. In a way, this reflects the gradual change in the group’s structure and methods, but some viewers could find their attention waning as they try to figure out who’s who.