The Baader Meinhof Complex
Sandra Hall, reviewer
May 11, 2009
IF YOU believe the personal and political are linked inextricably,
it's tempting to argue it all began on the day that Ulrike Meinhof
came home to find her husband having sex with the au pair.
In the wake of this dispiriting discovery, she left her middle-class
life and moved with her two children to Berlin. It was there that she
eventually met the radical activists, Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin.
Two years after that, she was in Stammheim prison, having abandoned
her career as a respected left-wing journalist to help Baader and
Ensslin set up the terrorist group, the Red Army Faction. Together
they and their supporters shook the German Government throughout the
first half of the 1970s with a relentless succession of bank
robberies, bombings and kidnappings.
Uli Edel's film is based on the book, The Baader Meinhof Complex , by
Stefan Aust, a journalist who knew several of the young radicals who
became involved with the Red Army Faction, but it's so dispassionate
in tone and so scrupulously intent on documenting the mayhem they
caused that there is little time for exploring the thinking behind it.
You're left to do that for yourself and, admittedly, enough insights
are tossed out en route for you to hazard a reading into the
characters of the ruthlessly hardline Baader and Ensslin. The reasons
for Meinhof's startling transformation, however, are lost amid the
explosions, which are detonated regularly throughout the film's 150 minutes.
It opens in 1967 with a student riot staged by demonstrators against
a visit to Berlin by the Shah of Iran. The police move in with
terrifying brutality to disperse the rioters and there's widespread
outrage when it's learnt that one of the students has been shot and
killed. Soon afterwards, the political climate is further inflamed
when activist Rudi Dutschke is shot down in the street and injured
severely by a young right-wing hysteric.
In response, students storm the offices of the reactionary Springer
press, whose papers have been running an anti-student line, and later
that year Baader and Ensslin are sentenced to three years in prison
for setting fire to a Frankfurt department store as a protest against
the Vietnam War.
Out of prison, pending their appeal, they go underground, hiding out
in France and Italy, where the action pauses long enough to give us a
glimpse of the dynamics animating their relationship. Moritz
Bleibtreu's Baader emerges as a show pony, whose predilection for
making loud noises embraces a passion for expensive cars driven at
full throttle while Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek), his lover, is
doctrinaire and manipulative with a chilling dedication to their
cause, which can roughly be defined as being anything that
contributes to the mythology that they are rapidly creating around
themselves and their exploits.
Why Meinhof doesn't read them this way is the film's central mystery.
She's played by Martina Gedeck, who has proved in films as disparate
as The Lives Of Others and Mostly Martha that she can do just about
anything; but the script gives her so little to work with that it's
hard to understand why she's so quick to allow Ensslin to get under
her skin. For they're not drawn together by the warmth of shared ideals.
Camaraderie is not Ensslin's style. She prefers the taunt, going
after Meinhof for merely documenting injustice while she and Baader
do something about it. And she's extraordinarily effective. Within
three months of meeting the pair, Meinhof has agreed to help Baader
escape from prison and shortly afterwards, she goes on the run with
them to a training camp in Jordan run by El Fatah. But hardest to
swallow is the fact she stands by passively while they arrange for
her children to be deposited in a Palestinian orphanage
Up to this point, Edel and the film's writer-producer, Bernd
Eichinger, have swept us along efficiently enough. It's been a rough
ride but the ground has been well covered. Now, however, your
imagination is asked to make an impossible leap. For if Meinhof
really believes the personal and the political are indivisible and
you can see her on YouTube expressing this sentiment in a 1970
interview then her abandonment of her children is also an act of self-betrayal.
You want to know more and Eichinger's script isn't even going to try
to enlighten you. The action surges on to the next act of
destruction, where Edel's uninflected style works much more
effectively. The bombings and robberies have a potency as if they've
been ripped direct from the news bulletins of the day.
The film is at its most fascinating after Baader, Meinhof and Ensslin
have been arrested and imprisoned in Stammheim, where they're allowed
to collaborate on their own legal defence. In a bizarre arrangement,
they're assigned a wing of their own where the cell doors are left
open during the day so they can work together and it's here that
Meinhof finally gives in to despair as Ensslin, with the practised
skill of a playground bully, goes on undermining her to the end.
In line with their decision to document rather than try to account
for the group's crimes, Edel and Eichinger do not offer any theories
as to why the wave of activism that swept Europe after the 1968 Paris
Revolution hit Germany so hard. Implicit is the activists' anger at
the heavy-handed authoritarianism of the West German Government but
the film steers clear of the argument that they were motivated partly
by an urge to punish their parents' generation for refusing to
confront the crimes of Nazism. Yet it's a persuasive one.
In 1978, for instance, 13 of Germany's top directors joined together
to make Germany In Autumn , a film that chronicled their individual
responses to the Red Army Faction's crimes.
By far the most memorable of the pieces was a rant by Rainer Werner
Fassbinder, who filmed himself at home hectoring his mother into
confessing her fascist sympathies. It was a perverse drama that left
you with no illusions about either mother or son. While she admitted
her taste for life under a dictator, he looked to be making every
effort to be one. American critic Vincent Canby said the film was
infused with such intense self-absorption that it transformed
narcissism into a higher form of political commitment.
From the evidence on display in Edel's film, an even more extreme
brand of narcissism was responsible for Baader and Ensslin's
radicalisation. But the mystery of Meinhof's transformation remains
just that a mystery.
True tales of terror
May 09, 2009
By Phil Taylor
When a 20-year-old Stefan Aust joined a small socialist journal named
Konkret, a fellow staff member by the name of Ulrike Meinhof was a
Meinhof wrote about the poor, about those in sweat shops and in
prisons and was adored within the liberal movement in which she socialised.
Meinhof, who was 12 years older than Aust, cut an impressive figure.
"She was rather attractive, very intelligent, very well-educated, and
she had very strict political positions. She was traditional
socialist. What I did not know was at that time she was a member of
the Communist Party, which was illegal [then] in West Germany ...
"She travelled to East Germany quite a bit, had contact with the
secret service in the East. At that time the East German Socialist
Party financed Konkret. She could write very well, was very radical,
sometimes very arrogant and depressed at the same time, melancholic.
She was not a person you would expect would take part in actions that
she did. Her robbing a bank, that was unbelievable!"
Aust, editor-in-chief of influential magazine Der Spiegel until 2008,
wrote The Baader Meinhof Complex in 1985 and has co-written two
films, made a documentary and produced many articles about the group
that called itself Red Army Faction (RAF).
Part of Aust's fascination is exploring how people such as Meinhof
went from peace activists seeking a more humane society to brutal
terrorists, "from hyper-moral to immoral".
The film, due for release here in September, also attempts to do this
by concentrating on the stories of the three main characters
(Meinhof, Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin) during the decade prior
to their suicides in 1976.
The release of the film signals a resurfacing of interest. The book
was a bestseller but only now has a movie been based on it. Aust
suggests that it has now found its time, that it needed a new
generation to grow up and ask questions of their parents.
"What did you do when everybody was in the streets demonstrating
against Vietnam? What did you think about Ulrike Meinhof and Andreas
Baader going underground? Maybe," says Aust, "it's that simple."
It was too raw for the generation of that time. The terrorism of the
bloody autumn of 1977 - which included the murder of the head of a
bank, the kidnapping and execution of powerful industrialist Hanns
Martin Schleyer and the hijacking of Lufthansa Flight 181 - were for
Germans like September 11 was for Americans, says Aust. They had seen
nothing like it.
Significantly, the terrorism of the 1970s came from the children of
Germany's Nazi generation. The most violent of the protest groups
around the world at that time were in countries with fascist pasts
Japan, Italy, Germany.
Worldwide, there were protest movements against American imperialism,
mainly opposing the Vietnam war. A second factor in Germany was
Germany's past. Many involved in the Nazi movement were still around,
some in important positions.
The young protesters tried to do what their parents' generation had
not - resist Nazi power. They compared the Germany of the late 1960s
with Nazi Germany, says Aust. Police attacks on students, secret
service scandals, these were seen as evidence of the same behaviour
of the pre-war and war era.
That, says Aust, is what made it so very violent in Germany. "The
moment you feel that this country is a fascist state or a police
state, you give yourself the permission to do almost anything."
But the RAF was deluded. Its plan was to foster revolution by
provoking the state to react violently and thereby show what they
believed to be its real face as a police state.
Aust says he came to realise through his research that the RAF had "a
quasi-religious character rather than a rational political character".
"Believing in revolution became like believing in God. To think that
in Germany the masses would overthrow the capitalist system was
completely irrational. I cannot believe that they really believed
that. Rather, they acted like political or religious martyrs to show
the state was as brutal as they thought it was. It was an experiment
with their own and others' lives."
The characters of the protagonists helped create the tinderbox.
Baader, whom Aust likens to the character Marlon Brando portrayed in
The Wild One, was charismatic, narcissistic, lazy, weak, sadistic, aggressive.
Gudrun Ensslin, an attractive daughter of a pastor and a gifted
student, returned from a year-long student exchange appalled at the
political naivete of the America she saw during the Eisenhower era.
Her disillusionment deepened when Germany's Social Democrats formed a
grand coalition with the conservatives, their erstwhile political
opponents. Change would have to be forced from outside the system, she decided.
Speaking in 1967, after Benno Ohnesorg was fatally shot in the head
by a policeman during a protest march against the visit of the Shah
of Iran, Ensslin said: "They'll kill us all. This is the Auschwitz
generation. You can't argue with the people who made Auschwitz. They
have weapons and we haven't. We must arm ourselves."
Baader, Meinhof and Ensslin were, says Aust, "strange characters in a
strange situation". Taken alone, they were not particularly
significant to the rise of the terrorist group. Rather, like the
various ingredients of an explosive, they became potent when put
together at a certain place and time.
"You never have a terrorist group anywhere where it is not combined
to a huge radical movement. A terrorist group does not fight by
itself. You need to have some water where the fish can swim. That was
the radical student movement and the radical left in the 60s in Germany."
Al Qaeda exists now because of a global Islamist movement. There are,
says Aust, more similarities than we might think between the RAF of
the 60s and 70s and al Qaeda.
"The point it all comes from is the near and Middle East conflict.
"You had the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian groups in
the 1960s and 1970s. During the Cold War the East gave money and
training to Palestinian groups. It was a socialist movement in the near East.
"It is the same now only they don't call themselves socialists
because there is no socialist part of the world anymore ... if you
look at what Ayman al-Zawahri, Bin Laden's deputy, says and writes,
and take out the references to God and Allah and religious phrases,
you have a social revolutionary movement like the RAF and other
movements of the 70s."
"It's very similar. I think if we knew the language and cultural
background better we would realise that there are a lot of similarities."
Terrorists today make use of suicide bombers. Though that wasn't part
of the RAF per se, the potential to die through their actions was on
their schedule every day. Three key figures killed themselves in
prison, a fourth starved himself to death in a blaze of publicity.
Martyrdom and communication are central to terrorism.
"If you look at September 11," says Aust, "it was pure communication.
Flying with one airplane into one of the towers and then waiting
until CNN is there and then flying into the second one. It is
communication with real casualties. That was the way [also] with RAF."
The one major difference was September 11 was an attack from another
world. "It was not from the children of your own people."
Aust sees no end to terrorism without an end to the Middle East and
Near East conflict it arises from. Sometimes major conflicts end
through horror fatigue - when there has been enough blood. Younger
people, he notes, can hardly believe Germany and France fought a
series of wars for much of a century.
Release of the film in Germany caused division. It was accused of
using violence gratuitously and of lending "terrorist chic" to the
Aust defends both charges, though he notes the actors may be better
looking than the people they play. His objective, he says, was accuracy.
"It would be impossible for a book reader or a film viewer to
understand why so many people followed them if they were portrayed
only as villains and criminals. It was their charisma that made them
If you have the stomach to count, you will find 119 bullets are
pumped into the bodies of a driver and a minder in the scene
depicting the kidnapping of Schleyer. In that slaughter, the police
indeed counted 119 bullets.
Most books and films about terrorism, says Aust, concentrate on the
motives of terrorism.
"Always in whatever I have done - making documentaries, writing
books, writing articles - the most important thing is to show what is."
Lessons in terror history
May 09, 2009
The Baader Meinhof Complex (Der BaaderMeinhof Komplex) (MA15+)
Limited national release
IN the 1970s, terrorism did not constitute a threat from suicide
bombers and religious fundamentalists.
It was closer to home. The young members of the Red Army Faction
(which incongruously shared an acronym with the Royal Air Force)
rocked the establishment in the Federal Republic of Germany with a
series of robberies, bombings and assassinations. The leadership of
the RAF -- Andreas Baader, his girlfriend Gudrun Ensslin and
journalist Ulrike Meinhof -- were the well-educated children of
parents who lived under, and largely supported, Hitler. While many
young people in the West spent the latter part of the '60s and the
first half of the '70s protesting against the Vietnam War, Baader and
co went much further and took up arms against the state which,
eventually, responded by crushing them.
Uli Edel's film, The Baader Meinhof Complex, which he wrote in
collaboration with producer Bernd Eichinger (also the writer-producer
of Downfall, the recent film about Hitler's last days), tells the
story of the RAF methodically and lucidly. It begins in 1967, when
Meinhof (Martina Gedeck), who was married to a womanising husband and
the mother of two small daughters, is becoming aware of the
increasing radicalisation of Germans of her generation. A visit to
Germany by the shah of Iran triggered huge demonstrations not only
against the Iranian dictator but also against the Vietnam War and the
continued presence of American troops in West Germany. This
demonstration was met by an unusually brutal police response, which
succeeded only in further radicalising many of the protesters.
Incidentally, 1967 was the same year the Warren Beatty-Faye Dunaway
film Bonnie and Clyde was released. And you can't help wondering if
the charismatic Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu) and the attractive Ensslin
(Johanna Wokalek) might have modelled themselves on the movie image
of the Depression-era outlaws. One of the first activities of the RAF
is to bomb a Frankfurt department store, an act for which Baader and
Ensslin are arrested and convicted. Meinhof's role in helping the
pair make a violent escape from custody is a defining moment in the
history of the RAF; the radical journalist leaves her family behind
forever to join the RAF and undergo military training in Jordan: this
is a bleakly amusing sequence in which the "liberated" Germans,
especially the women, find themselves in conflict with Arab militants.
While the authorities, led by a dour Bruno Ganz, work frantically to
track them down, the RAF embarks on a series of increasingly violent
bank robberies and the bombing of the newspaper offices of the hated
publicist Axel Springer. Even after some of the principals are
arrested and imprisoned, their disciples continue the struggle into
the next generation.
Edel and Eichinger appear to be even-handed in their approach to this
still-controversial subject. On the one hand they present the known
facts with a painstaking thoroughness, so that the motives and
actions of Baader, Ensslin and Meinhof are made reasonably clear.
Without endorsing the actions of the terrorist group, the film also
deals candidly with the political background that led these children
of Nazis to engage in antisocial activity. The film's two-hour
running time is filled with incident and is certainly never dull.
With its excellent cast and powerful narrative drive, The Baader
Meinhof Complex is a vividly presented history lesson. As revealing
as it is, you have the feeling the film barely scratches the surface.
Terrorists fail to thrill in history lesson
May 7, 2009
Reviewer: Jake Wilson
THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX (MA)
Selected cinemas (150 min)
HISTORY is both horror show and thrill ride in Uli Edel's chronicle
of the exploits of Germany's most famous left-wing terrorists: the
Baader Meinhof group, more officially known as the Red Army Faction,
who were responsible for a string of bank heists, bombings, and
sundry outrages over the course of the 1970s.
A director for hire who has worked in Hollywood as well as Europe,
Edel might be said to specialise in sacred monsters. His CV includes
the erotic thriller Body of Evidence (1993), starring Madonna, and a
TV biopic about Mike Tyson.
Here, he has teamed up with Bernd Eichinger, the writer-producer best
known for Downfall (2004), a docudrama about the last days of Hitler.
Adapting a non-fiction book by Stefan Aust, they've arrived at a
straightforward view of the Red Army Faction as a bunch of preening buffoons.
Their leader, Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu), is as hotheaded as
he is infantile. His defining scene shows him goading his lawyer into
snatching a purse as a test of faith, then throwing a tantrum when
the tables are turned.
Noticeably older and squarer than her associates, the group's
resident intellectual Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck) is a humourless
beatnik who abandons her children in order to spend more time
chain-smoking while pounding out manifestos on her typewriter.
Pitted against them is the heroic police chief Horst Herold (Bruno
Ganz) who must balance his obligation to defend law and order with
his sympathy for the grievances of youth.
There seems little doubt where the film's allegiances lie. Yet Edel
is not immune to the sensational appeal of gun battles and
explosions, nor to the glamour of "sexually liberated" warriors
leading the charge against the establishment.
Indeed, without its frequent action sequences and related
provocations, the film would turn into a tedious history lesson -
which happens in any case to some extent, given the amount of factual
material that Edel and Eichinger have to deal with over two-and-a-half hours.
To do full justice to this fascinating subject, you'd need a director
with something like Martin Scorsese's appetite for detail, capacity
for spectacle, and willingness to face up to his own ambivalence.
The Baader Meinhof Complex looks like a bland telemovie by comparison
with Scorsese's Goodfellas (1990), but at least it's not as dull as
the last few modern-day "epics" by Ridley Scott.
Baader Meinhof and the cult of celebrity
05 May 2009
By Peter Galvin
The controversy over the Oscar-nominated film about Germany's most
notorious Urban Terrorist Group, is just the latest episode in a
media saga begun 40 years ago.
It is a terrible thing to kill.
But we will kill not only others, we will kill ourselves too if necessary,
For this murdering world can be changed by force alone, as
Every living person knows."
- Bertold Brecht, The Measures Taken
(Quote found in the cells of the Baader Meinhof Group, at Stammheim prison)
Der Spiegel is Germany's most popular news magazine and for a time in
the 70s it would run weekly stories on the urban terrorist gang, the
Baader Meinhof Group (B-M). "They would regularly list 'B-M'
alongside "Culture', 'Foreign'…no one needed the letters B-M
explained to them," writes Richard Huffman in a new book about the
group, The Gun Speaks. In 1971 a poll taken in West Germany found
that 20 percent of citizens under 30 had some sympathy for the Baader
Meinhof Group and one in 10 would be happy to give its members refuge
from the authorities. In the context of post-war Germany, the Baader
Meinhof's message of violent government overthrow had some real moral force.
"The Baader Meinhof touched the zeitgeist, which was one of dealing
with the Nazi roots of the older generation," explains Annette
Hoerster, a Cologne native who is researching an MA (at Sydney
University), which deals in part with the Baader Meinhof Group. She
says that it was the fact that former Nazis were in government and
industry that incensed the generation born in WWII as it seemed a
betrayal to the ideal of a new democratic Germany.
The Baader Meinhof grew out of the new left movement in the late 60s,
Hoerster says, where protesters, many of them students, routinely
objected to the government of West Germany's authoritarian civil
strategies and foreign policy support for US involvement in Vietnam.
"A lot of these demonstrations against the government got out of hand
and became violent," Hoestler explains, "because of outdated police
tactics, originally devised during Weimar Republic which were
performed by many officers, now middle aged, who had been trained in the SS!"
State response to the threat of the Baader Meinhof helped create an
'us and them' mood in the popular culture: "We had the feeling that
they were like Robin Hoods," says Klaus Krischok, director of the
Sydney's Goethe Institute, who was a teenager in Germany at the time.
Young people were routinely stopped by police and had their cars
searched, an action that spawned a bumper sticker: 'Just because I
have long hair I do not belong to the Baader Meinhof Group.'
Based on Stefan Aust's landmark book, The Baader Meinhof Complex, Uli
Endel's big budget exploration of the events surrounding the
formation and activities of the terrorists has been criticised for
the predictable and traditional reasons that most films based on
true-life criminal activities always have been: its critics have
complained that in taking a thriller outline and applying action
movie aesthetics, the film omits the pain of the victims and
glamourises the 'bad guys'.
"It is not really an important point, but in Moritz Bleibtreu's
portrayal of Baader, he does not have a lisp, like the real Baader
did," Hoerster says, ruefully. But the film's portrait of Baader as
an individual who understood power as both real and abstract, sensual
and based on image has sound basis in research: "Baader was known to
rise in the morning and search the news print media for mention of
his name," she says.
The characterisations of the Gang itself are problematic not only for
dramatists, but historians as well. "The Group would commit an
action, a crime, and then Meinhof, who was the most politically
sophisticated would write a pamphlet or article about it, to explain
it," Hoerster says. Was Andreas Baader then, a foul-mouthed poseur or
the perfect poster boy for revolution? Hoerster suggests that Baader
was political but "hard to grasp" and baulks at dismissing him, as
others have, as a 'garden variety' sociopath. Born in Munich in 1943,
the son of a respectable middle class historian, Baader the teen,
faked an incurable lung ailment as a way of attracting attention. The
sham was exposed when his boarding school pals found no trace of
blood on his handkerchief. His adolescent rebellion took the form of
not celebrating Christmas, and poor personal hygiene.
By the time he reached 30 he was the leader of the Red Army Faction
(RAF), a group of urban terrorists he had formed with his girlfriend,
an earnest, educated and politically motivated activist, Gudrud
Ensslin, born 1940, the daughter of a Protestant pastor. The third
key member of what would become the infamous group was one of
Germany's leading political commentators of the late 60s, Ulrike
Meinhof, born 1934, a media celebrity in her own right. Baader
apparently disliked the Baader-Meinhof moniker since he was the
"leader" and publicly they had ideological objections to a cult of
celebrity. (Aust writes he was unremittently cruel toward Meinhof,
who seemed ill at ease in the 'underground' atmosphere of a life
lived 'on the run').
The Baader-Meinhof would ultimately be responsible for 34 violent
killings - some of them outright murders.
Under their RAF 'brand' they robbed banks, and bombed the offices of
the right-wing Springer news group, as well as US army HQ's based in
Europe (a protest against NATO).
By 1972 many one-time supporters had turned against the RAF and the
state clamped down on the personal liberties of citizens with random
raids right across West Germany's major towns and cities.
By 1975 the Baader Meinhof gang were all captured. In 1977 as the
RAF/Baader Meinhof trial reached its end, a wave of violence hit West
Germany, led by the Second Generation of RAF, aimed at forcing
authorities to release the groups leadership from Stammheim prison.
There were multiple murders of government figures and their
bodyguards in the street, an airline hijacking and a kidnapping.
Filmmakers responded immediately, with much of the work keen on the
symbolic and philosophical significance of the action (a position
that infuriated both the middle-brow elite and the working class,
In 1978 Germany in Autumn appeared. Made by some of the country's
leading filmmakers and thinkers including Heinrich Boll, Rainer
Werner Fassbinder, Alexander Kluge and Volker Schlondorff, it was an
"essay film" that compiled news reports, interviews and commentary of
what had happened in the RAF "autumn" of 1977. Two years later
Fassbinder released a feature The Third Generation, a fiction that
centred on an urban guerrilla group, not unlike the Baader Meinhof.
Critic Tony Rayns described Fassbinder's thesis in Time Out: "The
West German state is so repressive that it might well have invented
its terrorists as scapegoats for its own totalitarianism." Stammheim
an art-house feature which received wide festival exposure directed
by Reinhard Hauff, focused on the trial of the Baader Meinhof, was
released in 1986 to much acclaim.
Aust, who knew Meinhof when she was a major player at the left-wing
journal Konkret, writes that he is not judgemental of the Baader
Meinhof Group, and the film like his book maintains a cool,
observational tone, a position bound to confront viewers in a movie
where so much blood is shed.
A revolution on the run
Baader-Meinhof cell was bombs not brains, writes Craig Mathieson.
WHEN engaged to play a historical figure the majority of actors are
drawn to the perceived achievements of their subject: subconsciously
they imbue greatness to minor acts, they mark out defining moments, a
rationale is fleshed out that allows them to inhabit the part while
buttressing their self-worth. It's a thespian thing.
But German actor Moritz Bleibtreu, who portrays infamous German
terrorist Andreas Baader in director Uli Edel's momentum-laden
descent into national hysteria, The Baader-Meinhof Complex, has a far
more stripped-down take on the motivations of the man who helped take
West Germany into a national crisis before committing suicide in
prison in 1977.
"My mother told me that in the '60s people would sit around in the
evening and talk politics and the philosophy of the situation - and
that's how guys got the girls!" says Bleibtreu, speaking from his
Hamburg home. "Andreas Baader wasn't an intellectual at all, but if
you wanted to meet a girl you went to a demonstration, so he figured
out that everyone was talking about throwing a stone through a
window, so he was the first person to actually do it. He was the one
who did what everyone was talking about and that had a huge impact on people."
The 37-year-old son of a family steeped in acting, Bleibtreu has a
leading position in the German cinema, appearing in several
international hits, such as 1998's Run Lola, Run and 2001's The
Experiment. He has an obvious energy, which combined with his
enthusiasm for a film that was nominated for Best Foreign Language
Film at this year's Academy Awards, makes him a worthy match for the
charismatic, if relatively undefined, Baader.
"The image of Andreas Baader is so powerful because no one knew the
guy," Bleibtreu explains. "If you talk to 20people who supposedly
knew him, you would have 20 different Baaders. 'Legend' is a bad word
when it comes to this guy, but he became his legend. He was based on
myth. The Andreas Baader we know today is a mix of thousands and
thousands of stories and that's difficult to play as an actor - there
was no footage, hardly any audio. At the end I had to tell everyone
that they did not know him and that's what made him mythical - no one
knew him. You suck in all the information and then forget it on the set."
That's not an easy process to undertake when you're playing a person
who looms so dauntingly large in the nation's collective psyche.
Beginning as students radicalised by the protest movement of 1968,
Baader and his partner, the fiercely committed Gudrun Ensslin
(Johanna Wokalek), set fire to a department store, an act which drew
a jail term for Baader. With the help of a disillusioned journalist,
Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck), he escaped in 1970, leading to the
formation of Baader-Meinhof, a left-wing terrorist cell that began
with bank robberies, before escalating into bombings and murder.
"They weren't ordinary revolutionaries - this was a fight between
generations. Germany had just become stable little more than 20years
after World WarII and suddenly these guys try to destroy everything,"
says Bleibtreu. "The government was so scared that they made so many
mistakes - they couldn't react. But for the revolutionaries it was
less about politics than just breaking free. They didn't want to be
associated with the old world where your father or your mother or
your uncle would be directly connected to World WarII."
Based on journalist Stefan Aust's 1985 similarly titled dissection of
the group's actions, The Baader-Meinhof Complex does not attribute
explicit reasoning or moral judgement to its subjects. Instead, it
marks their descent into an insular, self-provoking state, using the
visual language of a thriller to instil the docudrama with immediacy.
Baader, Ensslin and Meinhof were all catalytic agents, whose combined
reaction unhinged the nascent German democracy of the era.
"This film is about showing there was a point in history where people
believed in change, they believed that the individual can make a
difference," says Bleibtreu. "Believing you can change something is a
good thing, but the way they did, with violence, is completely off
track. Violence is not an answer to anything.
"It was a revolution as a young boy would imagine it. At first they
did nothing but rob banks, switch apartments and drive around in fast
cars. They had no organisation, they couldn't plan anything
sophisticated. They sat in the kitchen and said, 'Let's go to
Frankfurt and throw a bomb'."