Monday, January 11, 2010

Movie Review: The Baader Meinhof Complex

The Baader Meinhoff Complex ***
Directed By:
Uli Edel.
Written By: Bernd Eichinger and Uli Edel based on the book by Stefan Aust.
Starring: Martina Gedeck (Ulrike Meinhof), Moritz Bleibtreu (Andreas Baader), Johanna Wokalek (Gudrun Ensslin), Nadja Uhl (Brigitte Mohnhaupt), Stipe Erceg (Holger Meins), Niels-Bruno Schmidt (Jan Carl Raspe), Bruno Ganz (Horst Herold).

The Baader Meinhoff Group was a left wing political terrorist group that worked in Germany mainly from the late 1960s through the 1970s. Europe had more than group left wing terrorist groups operating at that time. Inspired by Che Guevara, and spurred by the war in Vietnam, the young groups, mainly students, started off protesting, and then turned violent. Uli Edel’s The Baader Meinhoff Complex recounts the group’s exploits over a 10 year period. The film is fast moving, violent and supremely entertaining (hence it’s Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language film last year) and yet the films action movie pyrotechnics distract from its political content. The filmmakers don’t seem to have any sort of opinion on the group itself - but of course having no opinion is an opinion in itself.

The film essentially concentrates on three people. Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu) is a young, idealistic man, who seems more interesting in sex than in politics. He drives fast cars, sleeps around and yells a lot. His “girlfriend” is Gudrun Esslin (Johanna Wokalek), who has already had one child, but abandoned him for “the cause”. Ulrike Meinhoff is slightly older than the rest of them - already a famous journalist, married with two kids, she sympathizes with the movement and their politics, who slowly gets involved with the movement, but then regrets all the violence that happens.

The problem with these groups, and why they never seem to accomplish anything they set out to do, is all the in fighting that takes place. No one can seem to agree on what the best way to go about getting their point made. There are assassinations or kidnappings of famed industrialists, bombings on malls and newspapers, lots of speeches made and manifestos sent off, but they can never seem to quite figure out what they hell they stand for, or how to accomplish their goals. Another problem is how ill thought out and ill prepared they are. There is a sequence when they go off to the Middle East to train how to believe guerilla warriors, and laugh the whole thing off. Say what you want about Middle Eastern terrorists, but they are committed. These kids are more interested in sex and drugs than politics.

I liked the performances in the movie, particularly by the women. Gendrick (from The Lives of Others) and Wokalek are able to make complex characters out of their roles. What does it mean to be a mother willing to sacrifice your children to the movement? Their differing reactions to being in jail and on trial - Gundrun becoming stronger, and Meinhoff completely falling apart. Bleibtreu is also good, although the movie doesn’t give him as complex a character to play. Bruno Ganz is the one police officer in the film who we actually remembered, and that’s more because Ganz is such a strong actor.

The film is expertly made by Edel. At two and half hours, it simply flies by. The violent sequences in the movies are quick and violent and bloody, and handled with skill and style. Yet, what is holding the film back from greatness is the screenplay itself. I wanted more comment, one way or the other, on the group itself. What I saw was a bunch of whiny, middle class kids with na├»ve political views who use this “revolution” as an excuse to get high, fuck, blow shit up and essentially join a cult. Perhaps this was true, but I wanted more complex. The result is a film, that while a supreme entertainment, feels shallow.

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