The Baader-Meinhoff Complex

  • Title: The Baader-Meinhof Complex
  • Country of Origin: Germany
  • Genre: Drama
  • Released: 2008
  • Run Time: 149 minutes
  • Director: Uli Edel
  • Starring: Martina Gedeck, Johanna Wokalek, Moritz Bleibtreu, Bruno Ganz
  • Available on: YouTube Rental, iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, iTunes
  • Recommendation by George Harrison

Reviewing a film like this one is always difficult. It’s not just cheap entertainment like Marvel’s latest flick (I’m aware of the irony of describing Marvel films as “cheap”). Rather it’s a film that blurs the documentary and story together to take you through a series of linked historical events, and I ain’t talking about the whimsy of Forrest Gump; it’s the visceral and often brutal based-on-history film that leaves you solely only the director’s impression of events. We’ve got to be careful.

But, my goodness is it worth the dabble, if only to show you that terrorism is older than 9/11!

The Baader-Meinhof Complex throws you into the West-Germany political scene of 1967. Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck), a leading journalist, has just published an open letter to the Empress Farah Dibah condemning the rule of the Shah of Iran, her husband. She’s written it on the occasion of the Shah’s visit to the Deutsche Oper (arguably Berlin and Germany’s most famous opera house), where the left-wing student movement is already protesting against him. The Shah’s hired security (goons, if you like) attack the protesters at first without intervention, then with active assistance of the West German police. Amidst the chaos, a student, Benno Ohnesorg is fatally shot. Ulrike Meinhof now turns on the German authorities and leaves her unfaithful husband to campaign against the government.  Together with Gudrunn Ennslin (Johanna Wokalek), a disillusioned pastor’s daughter, she joins a group headed by the charismatic, possibly psychotic Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu), who’s already making bombs to blow up a department store at night. Their beef is with ‘US imperialism’, a new face of fascism in West Germany, in Vietnam, in the exploitation of developing countries; their bomb attacks aim to expose capitalism and the blind eye being turned to these problems. Later their eyes turn to the tabloid press office and civil servants...

And so the violence begins escalates, with the ‘Baader-Meinhof Gang’, self-styled as the Red Army Faction (RAF – the allusions to the British air force and USSR’s Red army are deliberate) targeting people as they attempt to garner as much attention as possible. Although this could easily have been an attempt to sympathise with their motives, or with the order of the state vs the anarchy of brutal killers, this is not so. It’s certainly not objective in approaching what we call ‘terrorism’. In the one hand it victimises the RAF members - seeing that they could be justified in their ‘armed struggle’; on the other hand, Baader’s semi-psychopathic tendencies leave much to be desired. For me, this lack of clear judgement is most clearly found in Meinhof herself. Whilst drawing your sympathy at first, her cause loses its focus and through her character I began to lose track of which side I was on. But that’s the point. You can’t say that the film takes a side. Does this make it better somehow as an historical film? For me, almost certainly, short of making a documentary, though that could be (and often is) a lot worse, given that documentaries have their own agendas.

If you’re looking for a slightly easier character to follow regarding this problem, look no further than Horst Hohler (Bruno Ganz, readily recognisable for his portrayal of Adolf Hitler in ‘Downfall’). His chief of police character serves most usefully as way of looking at the reality of the situation for Germany. They (the state/establishment) had to fight the RAF, but Hohler is keen to understand why each side does what it does in order to stop future violence and deconstruct the political extremists more effectively.

I hope this film shocks you. It should, though I fear some of its graphic violence will fall on desensitised eyes. At the very least, its acting, directional style and for the most part its historical accuracy is on point. More realistically it is powerful and is exemplary in objective story telling whilst making a point of admitting that no such thing exists.