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DVD Review

DVD cover

The Baader Meinhof Complex


Starring: Moritz Bleibtreu, Martina Gedeck, Johanna Wokalek and Nadja Uhl
Momentum Pictures
RRP: £17.99
Certificate: 18
Available 20 April 2009

In 1970 the Red Army Faction (RAF) was created by, among others, Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, Horst Mahler, Ulrike Meinhof and Irmgard Möller. Over the next thirty years this German urban terrorist group would go on to kill over thirty people including the industrialist Hanns-Martin Schleyer...

The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008 - 2 hrs, 23 min, 35 sec) is a thriller written and directed by Uli Edel (Last Exit to Brooklyn (1989)) from a novel by Stefan Aust. The screenplay was co-authored by Bernd Eichinger. The film was nominated for an Oscar and eventually won two awards and was nominated for six.

I say thriller as this is the best way to view the film. Although it uses original footage the film fails to really place the actions of the RAF in any concrete social or political context, which is understandable to an audience, especially a young non-German audience who may have no previous knowledge of the events depicted in the movie. The film also ignores whole sections of history so it is difficult to know what the intention of the director was. That said it does not glorify the violence typical of many thrillers.

Certainly he does not paint a sympathetic picture of the members of the RAF, who come across as drunk on ideology, without the insight of their own, apparent, inherent racism towards non-whites.

Although the RAF objected violently to post war Germany’s political and social elite, some of whom had served under the Nazi regime, the irony is that the film portrayal of the group, who were willing to bomb and kill to gain political change, actually led them to have more in common with the Nazi’s than was comfortable - collectively they resemble the Manson family. Their arrogance is clearly shown when they train with Arab dissidents, not only do they refuse to be segregated by sex, but the women sunbathe a case of all the proletariat being equal, with some members considered more equal than others. They even ape their Nazi forbearers in dehumanising the police that they murder, as a way of justifying their actions without seeing either the irony or comparison with the Nazi’s view of the Jewish peoples.

The film follows the formation and disintegration of the group, out of the student unrest of the late sixties, where youth culture felt disempowered and disenfranchised. The film does a good job at showing you what happened even if it fails to successfully address the reasons why. With so much to cover the film races along at a cracking pace with wall to wall killings, bombings and bank raids.

Taken on its own merits Moritz Bleibtreu turns in a powerfully charismatic performance as Andreas Baader, although, as previously stated, I really didn’t get the sense of what drove him to such extremes. The same is true of Martina Gedeck’s portrayal of Ulrike Meinhof, who originally worked as a respected political journalist before joining the RAF.

The film's faults are balanced by History in The Making (28 min, 35 sec) which takes a look at the social and political madness which was prevalent at the time and enabled the rise of the RAF. The documentary has contributions from Stefan Aust and Bernd Eichinger and looks at how they strove for the film to be as factual as possible. This feature is in German with English subtitles. On Uli Edel (12 min, 58 sec) is a featurette about the director and the making of the film. The Score (11 min, 57 sec) takes a look at how the film's score was produced, with contributions from the composer Peter Hinderthur. The disc wraps up with filmographies for five of the cast and the theatrical trailer (58 sec).

The film is presented in German with burned in subtitles, there are no other options.

I’ll not deny that this is a good film, but it sits uncomfortably between a documentary and a thriller. Even with its long running time it still failed to spend enough time on setting the scene for the formation of the RAF. Perhaps being a recent part of German history certain facts may have been taken for granted, but any non German under the age of thirty is unlikely to have even heard of the RAF and the superficial treatment presented here will not help. Ultimately this gritty film is not an easy experience, but it will guarantee discussion.


Charles Packer

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