The Baader-Meinhof Complex
This is the story of the Baader-Meinhof Group (aka The Red Army Faction or RAF), in Germany from 1967-77, maybe the first group of urban terrorists in the terror war. Although meager in numbers, they were so effective and feared that the entire country was almost shut down to capture these people. I have a good friend who was traveling in Europe during the worst of the times. She resembled one of the women in the Baader-Meinhof Group and she was questioned, sometimes intensely, at every border crossing. So what you see in this film, about the precautions the German government took to capture these people, is not some Hollywood-inspired creation.
Although I don’t want to damn with faint praise, this has the best subtitles I’ve ever seen in a movie. They are big and white with black borders. Not once did they blend in with the background. However, for me, sometimes the background was extremely disconcerting because it was made up of bare-breasted babes (mostly Johanna Wokalek). What’s a guy to do, look at the boobs or read the subtitles? I confess I might have missed reading some of the dialogue.
This is a terrific film. The titular heads of the gang were Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtrue), a wide-eyed lunatic, reminiscent of Hitler, and Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck), a journalist-turned terrorist. Meinhof was a well-known journalist, appearing on many German talk shows before she participated in a plan to spring Baader from jail in 1970, when she became an active participant. Meinhof is pictured relatively sympathetically, although she does agree to give up her children in order to pursue the Gang’s goals. Much more partisan and rabid is Baader’s girlfriend, Gudrun Ensslin (Wokalek), who is as much a zealot as Baader. I’m not sure why Meinhof is treated so relatively sympathetically. She had a well-known history in the illegal Communist Party. She is not only credited with being a co-founder of the group, she was the author of “The Urban Guerrilla Concept,” which influenced many insurgent and guerilla groups. She was clearly a prime mover, even though she’s pictured as being somewhat subservient to Ensslin.
Brilliantly directed and written by Uli Edel, in collaboration with Bernd Eichinger, from the book by Stefan Aust, this takes a realistic view of a very dangerous period in German history told basically from the terrorists’ POV. Edel was in school when the RAF first sprung into prominence, so he knows the emotions they inspired.
Edel was as faithful to the facts as possible, even using actual locations, like the Berlin opera house where a student was killed in a 1967 riot, and the same courthouse where the group was tried. This film shows them to be the fanatics they were. It never seemed to me that they were revolutionaries so much as anarchists.
(Spoiler alert) Although the film only covers 10 years, ending when the main participants committed suicide, it actually continued in operation until 1996. It was held responsible for 34 deaths and many injuries in its almost 30 years of activity.
The acting is uniformly excellent. Even though this goes on for almost 2 ½ hours, it never drags. In German with excellent subtitles.