The Baader Meinhof Complex
So then, more politics – no wait, WAIT, don’t go away – this is exciting politics with explosions and guns and kidnappings and car chases and everything. Continuing a strong run of recent German films that have stormed foreign markets, ‘The Baader Meinhof Complex‘ is a relatively brave film, portraying terrorists in something of an ambivalent light, certainly not sympathetic to their struggle and methods but not simplistically damning them as motiveless psychopaths either. As such the film has stirred up something of a controversy in Germany with the relatives of some of their victims complaining of the films action orientated ‘terrorist chic’ approach that allegedly celebrates the factions extreme methods, a criticism that I don’t think holds water in the final analysis.
The film charts the story of the Red Army Faction, a left wing terrorist group who plagued West Germany throughout the seventies with a murderous rampage of bombings and assassinations designed to bring down the ‘man’. Against the volatile background of the civil rights struggle and Vietnam war with student uprisings being brutally crushed in the US, France and Germany a cadre of left wing agitators gain a new impetuous when a student is killed during protests against the human rights record of the Shah of Iran during a state visit to West Germany. The factions methods accelerate in tune with the governments efforts to suppress and eliminate their movement, the firebombing of empty department stores descending into murders and bombings as the state closes in on the movements leaders and acolytes.
This is a curious film which like Spielberg’s ‘Munich‘ doesn’t quite work. On the one hand it does present a compelling era of recent European history and deftly takes the viewers through the key events of the groups evolution and fate of the cells individual leaders. On the other hand the irony and incongruity of using violent, terrorist methods to combat a perceived re-emerging fascist state are not explored, all we get are a series of barely indistinguishable leaders barking slogans to one another in-between operations before degenerating into the inevitable partisan sniping and paranoia. A little perspective on their motivations would have been useful. The film pays lip service to the guilt that this generation of young West Germans must have felt, realising that their parents must have at the very least turned a blind eye to the Nazi atrocities a mere twenty years earlier. I was quite shocked at the audacity of some of their operations which I had not read about, nor the final fate of the movements core leaders which held my interest despite its inevitability.
In some ways the film reminded me of the superior ‘Patty Hearst‘ but lacked that films psychological dimensions. You never really get a handle on exactly what is compelling these people to go to such lengths to achieve their aims but then again just to contradict myself (for a change) that is probably a conscious decision of the film-makers in order not to humanise the terrorists and thus elicit some form of empathy with them. Worth a look although it’s a little gruelling at two and a half hours. For a more rewarding experience I’ll offer the classic ‘Battle of Algiers‘ and a little known film called ‘Exposed‘ which has a outstanding performance by Harvey Keitel as a truly hypnotic and frightening terrorist leader.