Watched Uli Edel’s Baader Meinhof Komplex yesterday, and came away impressed and stuck with questions – after all, this wasn’t exactly a well-known period to me.
The plot concerns the rise and fall of the Rote Armee Faktion, the terrorist organization that conducted several very visible operations against both foreign and domestic targets in the sixties and seventies.
The film begins with a demonstration against the Shah’s visit to Berlin, a demonstration that turns brutally violent in a blink. The initial phase of the group is described well, but soon the film becomes unfocused, as new characters come and go, unintroduced (obviously the facelessness can be a part of being a part of a criminal organization). And by the time of the capture of the group’s leaders the later generations are shoved in without any exposition on why they are there.
The ensuing courtroom scenes, while on the long side, do not turn out drag on, since there’s very little on the legal proceedings shown in them. They instead concentrate on pointing fingers against the establishment. The strange co-ed incarceration in Stammheim is given a lot of exposure, and it’s never really explained why and how the prisoners are alternately able to listen to news, and alternately completely cut off. Considering the Stammheim being a brand-new high security prison hosting the public enemies #1, the ease with which guns are smuggled into the facility and successfully kept hidden stretches credibility.
The actors, especially the Ensslin/Baader/Meinhof-trio, have been well-cast – too bad the plot is too turbulent for them to explore their characters in any serious depth. For the most part the dialogue is capped to a couple of sentences, and especially Andreas Baader comes off as a too impulsive and arrogant guy well over his head.
The anti-american propaganda is almost a constant barrage on screen, but in describing a left-wing group toning it down would have seriously revised history. The obligatory newsreels showing the bombing of Vietnam (one of the keystone’s for the RAF’s protests), rise of Richard Nixon and the Black September attack on the Munich olympics is used only to show the world outside of Germany, the implications of the group’s actions within the nation are glossed over with a couple of news flashes.
The scenery is effectively set. The urban environment is ugly and packed with extras in appropriate clothes. And everybody smokes. All the time, even when participating in a panel discussion on live television. This is rubbed in so much that it threatens to become distracting. An application of bureaucratic method (and a truly old school computer) is featured briefly – but it is never stated whether its use ever leads to any success. The government take on events is funneled through a single official (played by Bruno Ganz), who unconvincingly enough seems to be the only one with any grasp of the group’s intents.
The violence is commonplace on screen, and not glamourized at all. Both the terrorists and the officials hounding them use a serious dose of overkill in their actions. There’s plenty of machine guns and plenty of blood – and a scene that rivals the vehicular slaughter in both Godfather and Bonnie&Clyde.
The music is used to lay out the era – the use of Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and The Who (My Generation, obviously) must have cost a small fortune.
As a historical film I found this to be quite close to Steven Spielberg’s München, though that movie was a much better self-contained package. Then again, the plot on that was that of a single (albeit long) revenge mission, not the proceedings of a decade of terrorism. On the other hand, München was much better laid out plot-wise, since it effectively ran on two parallel streams. This movie is entirely linear, and connections between events are not spelled out.
As a summary: Baader Meinhof Komplex is a good, thought-provoking film that describes the era of RAF and the “Deutscher Herbst” effectively. It tries to do much more than it actually accomplishes. But it also insiduously leaves seeds, entices the viewers to further investigate into the events shown.