The Baader Meinhof Complex is a highly stylized and pretty well-paced film, clocking in at over 2 hours long. The film does not stray far from the facts, yet such a history lesson in late 60’s through the better parts of the 70’s West German socio/political upheaval never disappoints, except maybe in that it is missing some of this man’s favorites in the German acting world. But I do digress. The film starts out with the humble beginnings of what would later become the Red Army Faction, also known as the Baader Meinhof gang.
We see the respected leftist journalist Ulrike Meinhof played by the stunning actress Martina Gedeck coming into her own as a politically active journalist when she takes the side of student demonstrators who, while peaceably protesting the visiting Shah of Iran, were attacked by the Shah’s entourage, then later the German police force. Her compassion for the students' and leftists' views were obviously not stomached well by the establishment’s right-wing eyes. But nonetheless Ulrike strikes a chord with the burgeoning student subversive groups. The political situation at this time in Germany was one of much suspicion towards those in political and economic power on both respective sides of Germany. Former Nazis still managed to find their way back into positions of power in the political and business sectors. And great suspicion of Nazism and/or American Imperialist influence did not sit well with the distrustful younger generation. Enter social unrest, the setting for the rest of our film.
Johanna Wokalek delivers a sexy and substantial breakout performance as Gudrun Ensslin, the other intellectual brain of the early RAF days. She drives the film and the newly born terrorist group like a jockey at the bridle. She also holds the bridle to the movie's other namesake, Andreas Baader, the psychopathic strong-arm of the RAF. Moritz Bleibtreu plays Andreas with a rageaholic’s vigor, both convincingly and fearfully. I cannot truly express the delivery these actors employ in their powerful roles as real life figures. Even after watching the film a second time I can’t with all honestly say I have seen any blatant over-acting, which one could expect from people who have the chance to play idealistic Marxist radicals (the vilified enemy of the Cold War generation) in a movie.
The first half plays like a youthful deviant’s joy ride in a stingray corvette of yesteryear. The last half is still a fever dream-paced ride, but in said stingray with blown struts and grinding gears as our proto-terrorist heroes begin their downward spiral in the same fashion of their fiery rise. Once again the film never strays far from fact; as the grueling trail and prison confinement grates on the souls and sanity of the group's incarcerated founding members, friendship and organizational dynamics take a boot to the head as solitary confinement and hunger strikes work chaos and ravage their respective psyches. The trailer does not lie about the birth of modern terrorism, as these influential but tragically egotistical miscreants help set off a tirade of international events in their wake, even after their capture. Excitement and a damn good history lesson is what one gets from The Baader Meinhof Complex.
Once again my only qualm with the film is that I would have loved Alexandra Maria Lara to have a speaking line and not just be gratuitous eye candy. And a bit more screen time for the ever-brilliant Bruno Ganz. But, none of this diminishes from the film itself. Hollywood should take note of Uli Edel’s direction and learn how one can make a film that is sexy, fast-paced and dripping with style that can somehow still contain substance. In closing, the film is more than worth seeing, not only for educational and entertainment value but also for its relevance to today’s trouble with terrorism and the consequences of free market capitalism. It brings food for thought to anyone who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s seeing the fall of the great enemy of communism and its ideology, and forces you to wonder if both sides took their views too far in one direction. Which in the end was perhaps a loss to both sides. Come watch the film and take from it what you will. Love, D.