BAADER/ MEINHOF REVIEW
I was in Cambridge with some academic colleagues and it was decided that we go to see a film, I was in the mood for something light, but then again, I was outvoted in a duly democratic decision and we went to see The Baader Meinhof Complex. Therefore I have waited a day before posting this critique since I might have just been moody about the decision going against my choice. No, I have remained constant, I still found it intensely annoying and I maintain that this is a film that can really get under your skin for all the wrong reasons.
It is very difficult to separate your personal and political opinions when you view a film that is so blatantly opposed to your worldview. This is such a motion picture but I have done my utmost to square the circle on this occasion. In fact, and for the record, I was also against the war in Vietnam and used to protest against it. But I was never a supporter of terrorism as a political tool. This film takes the opposite view and endeavours to portray it sympathetically. It fails miserably in this task.
One of the worst problems with a film like The Baader Meinhof Complex is that it tries to cram too many documentary style facts into its two and a half hours running time. The other main fault is that it is blatant, extreme left wing propaganda for a bunch of murderous amoral terrorists. The third main error is that this film has its facts wrong. The last error for me is the title, why is there the word “Complex” at the end of the title? This is never explained and I still have no clue what it means.
Before I got immersed in the many other faults of this film let me briefly share with you its background and plot. The Baader Meinhof Complex is a 2008 German film written and produced by Bernd Eichinger and directed by Uli Edel. It stars Moritz Bleibtreu, Martina Gedeck and Johanna Wokalek. The film is based on the German best-selling, supposedly non-fiction book of the same name by Stefan Aust and retells the early years of the West German terrorist group the Red Army Faction (RAF), which was the most active, deadly and prominent terrorist group in post-war West Germany. The film has been selected as the official German submission for the upcoming Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. That tells you more about the self-flagellation of the Germans who make the selection of their entry into the Oscars. Potentially the equally left leaning members of certain sections of the Academy Awards committee might well look kindly at this film as it mirrors the hip view of the armchair revolutionary that it’s OK to kill and maim people as long as they are not the victims you and your friends have taken a liking to.
Before I go too much further I must mutter professional courtesies in the direction of the technical skills deployed on this film. They are all adequate but are rendered less so by the erratic directing which allows some uneven acting performances. These are exacerbated by the overwrought screenplay, which is implausible, and naive.
I am not necessarily against films about German psychopaths, as the film Downfall on the last days of Adolf Hitler was an excellent example of a film about such a monster that worked wonderfully well. The reason that film worked and this one didn’t is because Downfall graphically brought you inside the minds, albeit unbalanced, of people and made you aware of what they thought and felt, however repellent that might have been. Here we have the character of Baader as a nutcase who goes on crazy killing sprees that make no sense, and are never adequately explained. He had no motivation other than the sheer joy of killing others.
We also have Ulricha Meinhof as a female journalist who has a husband and two young children, a left-winger living a comfortable right wing bourgeois life. She meets this group of proto terrorists and they seemingly radicalize each other without any self-doubt or rationale. At one stage, when questioned what she might be prepared to sacrifice for the cause she says she would never be separated from her two children. Later in the story she gives her kids up without a second’s hesitation.
I did a little homework with the help of my friends who speak German to find out if the police, courts and federal authorities were the buffoons this film portrays them as. The universal view is that they were not so inept or evil. This is a little like a poor man’s Oliver Stone film. You form your views before you make the film and then simply make the facts fit to suit these views. The difference with Oliver Stone is that he is a much better filmmaker. At least he entertains you while he twists the truth beyond common sense. Here our brains are assailed by clearly inaccurate and puerile justifications dressed up in a flimsy camouflage that fails on every level of drama, fact or narrative fiction.
The sequence when the gang of terrorists goes to the Jordanian desert to train with the Palestinian terrorists is almost as imagined by the team that brought you Carry on Hijacking. The sequences where the German terrorists, men and women, sunbathe naked in front of the straitlaced Islamic Palestinians are unintentionally laughable as are the training incidents.
It is laughable but nonetheless disturbing that the script can glibly assert the terrorist’s party murderous line without it ever being rebutted by anyone else in this rambling and incoherent screenplay. It is simply not credible or true, that the immorality of the multiple cold-blooded murders of this gang was never commented upon by anyone in authority with anything approaching common sense. Although the trial of the terrorist and the manner in which they were imprisoned during that period was ludicrously lax and politically correct but this film manages to portray even this section of the film as if these monsters were martyrs. If the film had managed to portray the main protagonists as believable human beings rather than as caricatures we might have been able to emphasize with them to some extent. As it is our only feeling is one of contempt for these monsters and their heinous crimes whilst feeling great sympathy for their many unfortunate victims.