Film Review: The Baader-Meinhof Complex
By Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
November 29, 2008
If you've been reading the papers over the last few years you could
be forgiven for thinking that we're in the midst of an unprecedented
surge of terrorist activity. Every day, the press is full of tales of
bomb plots and terror threats. Government announcements constantly
inform us of the need for new laws and new powers to deal with a
rising tide of violent extremism. Yet if you consider the number of
successful terrorist atrocities that have been carried out in the
West since the turn of the millennium, though the scale of attacks
like those of 9/11, 7/7 and Madrid may have increased, the number has
The 1970s were the heyday of Western terrorism. In the UK we had the
IRA and various other Irish paramilitary groups launching a string of
attacks from pub bombings in Guildford and Birmingham to attacks on
military bases in Aldershot and the assassination of much-loved royal
uncle Lord Mountbatten. The US had the left-wing Weathermen and
pro-civil rights Black Panthers attack government buildings and
police. Canada saw kidnappings by Quebec independence organizations.
France had far right racist groups launch a string of bomb attacks
against immigrants alongside campaigns by far-left organizations,
with Italy and Greece likewise suffering numerous attacks by left and
right-wing extremists. In Holland there were numerous hostage-takings
by Indonesian terrorist groups from the Maluku Islands throughout the
decade. Spain suffered from the rise of the Basque separatist
movement ETA, which continues to plant bombs to this day.
In Germany, despite the country being in the midst of its post-WWII
military occupation and division, they were particularly hard hit. As
if the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics by
Palestinian terrorists, recently depicted in Steven Spielberg's
Munich, home-grown terrorists also thrived. The most infamous of
these was the communist paramilitary group the Red Army Faction,
better-known by its early name, the Baader-Meinhof gang. Formed in
1970, the gang committed a number of attacks during the early part of
the decade, from murdering policemen to bombing US army barracks,
before things began to escalate. The group continued its campaigns
right up to the 1990s, throughout Germany's slow move towards
reunification and rehabilitation, before officially disbanding only
as recently as 1998.
Based on the bestselling nonfiction book by leading German journalist
Stefan Aust, this exploration of the gang's actions and the police
efforts to thwart them may have been dramatized and as a result
partially fictionalized, but its impact is all the greater for that.
It seems that Germany is now coming to terms with its recent past as,
following the success of The Lives of Others back in 2007 – looking
at the role of the secret police in communist East Germany – The
Baader-Meinhof Complex follows that Best Foreign Language Film
Oscar-winner as Germany's official entry for the 2009 Academy Awards.
Where this could have been a simple tale of terrorists running amok,
it instead morphs into a look at the psychology of an entire country
as postwar Germany sought to rediscover a national identity that had
been so horrifically tarnished by Nazism and then forcibly suppressed
by occupation. Just as The Lives of Others brought a forgotten part
of Germany's past to the world's attention and allowed Germans to
come to terms with it in the process, so too does The Baader-Meinhof
Complex. An intriguing exploration of a fascinating, forgotten aspect
of Cold War Europe.
A complex role
Last Updated: November 26. 2008
The success of The Lives of the Others in 2006 finally saw Martina
Gedeck move from the niche of admired German character actor to
become an international face. So much so that when it came to casting
The Baader Meinhof Complex, about the notorious German
revolutionaries the Red Army Faction, the 47-year-old actress was the
only name considered to play the notorious columnist Ulrike Meinhof.
Sure enough, Gedeck dominates the film in the same way the former
Konkret magazine journalist dominated the writings of the 1970 activists.
Meinhof's profile rose in the late 1960s but she was destined for
international infamy when on May 14 1970 she helped spring Andreas
Baader from jail, resulting in the birth of the Red Army Faction. A
campaign of violence against the state followed, but it was only when
Meinhof was arrested in July 1972 that the group became a cause célèbre.
In a hotel in London, the actress says, "Until I started making the
film, I didn't know much about her. It wasn't talked about much, it
was not taught in school. I wasn't brought up in a political
environment; in the 1970s the discussion on the threat of terrorism
that was taking place ensured that my parents turned away. We moved
to Berlin when I was a child and there were these huge demonstrations
but my parents didn't want me to be a part of it, and even though I
was attracted to the romanticism of the protests, I kept away. In any
case, I was very shy."
Gedeck's interest in Meinhof began when the 30th anniversary of the
so-called German Autumn of 1977 (when several RAF prisoners including
Baader killed themselves) was met with a number of new documentaries
and writings about the group.
She says, "What I found fascinating was that at a time when women
wouldn't speak politically at all, it was a world dominated by men,
she would say things that no one would speak about in her column. In
one way, she was very daring, but on the other side, she was soft,
very sweet and very low key. She didn't want to be the centre of attention."
It wasn't just the complexity of the character that made Meinhof such
a meaty role to play; her name still divides people. "I didn't want
to judge any of them," Gedeck says. "But it's hard to put yourself in
the place of this woman. I don't think I can do it, even if I had to
in a way. I can show certain steps, but there are other things that I
want audiences to ask themselves. Why did she do this and that? I
want to pose the same questions she did in her life, in the film."
I ask Gedeck why she thought an intellectual would turn to group
violence. "I think she got impatient," she says. "There was a deep
wound felt by this generation. They were furious and felt betrayed by
the older generation's involvement with Nazism. They were not
supposed to speak up. They felt oppressed and when they spoke up,
they hit back very hard. It was an inter-German conflict and had
nothing to do with the big conflict that is happening now, the war on terror."
The film also sees Gedeck reunited on screen with Moritz Bleibtreu,
who plays Baader. Last time they performed together they were an odd
couple in Oskar Roehler's controversial adaptation of Michel
Houellebecq's novel, Atomised. In the past, they've appeared on stage
together, too. Gedeck argues it's their differences that make them
such a dynamite screen pairing. "It's interesting to have this
tension between two people," she says. "There is an energy between
Moritz and me, and that is why it works. He has a secret to him as an
actor: I don't know what he's up to. But, like in jazz, we can be
very free together and that makes it exciting."
The excitement surrounding her own career continues to grow at an age
when most actresses start to fret over there not being enough roles
available. Since she appeared in Robert De Niro's The Good Shepherd,
her career has taken on an international dimension and upcoming films
include a biopic on Clara Schumann, the wife of the famous 19th
century composer, and Vincenzo Terracciano's Italian production Che
Bella Famiglia. No wonder Gedeck says that she's entered the most
interesting phase of her career, so far.
What made Baader kill
At last a film which explains how terrorists are created
By Matthew Carr
NOVEMBER 19, 2008
Uli Edel's big-budget terrorism flick The Baader-Meinhof Complex has
generated a sharp controversy in its director's native Germany. It
deals with a traumatic period of history that German society has yet
to come to terms with, and which has often been mythologised at both
ends of the political spectrum.
Despite Edel's declared intention of destroying the mystique that has
often surrounded the Red Army Faction (RAF) and its offshoots, his
film has been accused of terrorist hero-worship and dishonouring
Such criticisms are unfair to one of the better films on the subject
of Germany's terrorist emergency. The Baader-Meinhof Complex is not
without flaws; it is thin on individual characterisation and
sometimes relies so heavily on a cascade of violent setpieces to
drive the narrative forward that there is little space for ideas and analysis.
The film brilliantly depicts the tit-for-tat dynamic of terrorist emergencies
It is nevertheless an important film for various reasons. First of
all it is a meticulous reconstruction of the period it describes,
whose authenticity owes much to the collaboration of Stefan Aust, a
former journalistic colleague of Ulrike Meinhof and the author of the
best historical accounts of the group.
The film captures the RAF's infatuation with revolutionary violence,
their political incoherence and rage, their blinkered narcissism and
their contempt for anyone on the left who criticised their doomed and
bloody attempt to turn the staid West Germany of the 1970s into a
Latin American style 'urban guerrilla' front.
Without glamorising its protagonists in the slightest, it shows how
Baader, Ensslin and co could appear glamorous to each other and to
the radical middle-class subculture that to some extent supported
their actions and provided them with a constituency.
Where the film succeeds brilliantly is in its cold but objective
depiction of the morbid tit-for-tat dynamic that so often underpins
terrorist emergencies, in which the actions of the state and its
enemies each contribute to an escalating spiral of violence and cruelty.
Edel and Aust take pains to establish the political context in which
this deadly duel emerged. The early scenes of German police and
Iranian secret servicemen savagely attacking a peaceful demonstration
against the Shah and shooting one of the crowd dead; the attempted
assassination of the student union leader Rudi Dutschke, the beatings
administered to a future terrorist at a juvenile reform centre, are
as shocking and brutal as any scenes in the film.
These scenes establish a context that is often missing from
conventional representations of terrorism, whether fictional or
'real'. Whether it is the Red Army Faction, the IRA or al-Qaeda,
terrorists tend to be portrayed in ways that suit the propaganda
requirements of the governments that are fighting them.
Cinema so often attributes terrorism to the psychopathic evil of its
Such representations tend to obscure or deny the political context or
motivations that give rise to such groups, so that their actions seem
inexplicable and even insane to the general public. Cinematic
depictions of terrorism similarly rely on thrilleresque caricatures
which attribute the whole phenomenon to the warped psychologies or
psychopathic evil of its protagonists.
Such stereotypes may provide suitably killable objects for the
recreational violence of action movies and video games, but they
generally cast more heat than light on the subject of terrorism
itself. Edel and Aust take a very different approach. Without in any
way suggesting that the actions of Baader and co were legitimate or
justifiable in themselves, their film shows them as human beings and
political actors with tactics, objectives and motivations that can be
rationally understood - if not agreed with.
The film makes a forceful argument that terrorism cannot be
understood without looking honestly at the way its protagonists
perceive themselves. That may not seem like an astounding revelation,
but it is a perspective that was rarely present when the RAF first
emerged and which has been sadly absent in the good-versus-evil
fantasy world of the War on Terror