The Baader-Meinhof Complex
Directed by Uli Edel
Other than a few shock close-ups of bullets to the head, the most memorable images in director Uli Edel's The Baader-Meinhof Complex are of institutional interiors, particularly the disorderly pale blue cells where Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu), Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck), and Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek) are kept while they stand trial. This film spans a tumultuous decade and has a very large cast, so the fact that the most lifeless compositions are the most interesting should tell you a thing or two.
As written by Downfall scribe Bernd Eichinger, the scrupulously researched ripped-from-the-national-subconscious story goes something like this: journalist Meinhof becomes so impressed by the young and ruthless Baader and Ensslin that she abandons her barbed opinions pieces, her husband, and even her kids to join in attempting to upend the ruling order. Together they form the Red Army Faction, a network of German militants that grows bigger and better equipped, carrying out assassinations, detonating explosives, and even hijacking a plane, until it all runs aground in 1977.
Ensslin and Meinhof are more fully realized characters than Baader, thanks mostly to fine work by Gedeck and Wokalek, but history dictates that Baader get top billing. He's pretty much just a straight maniac, fond of the c-word, who rattles a lot of ascetic types in the Fatah training camp where he and his fellow travelers take a radical sabbatical. This movie is so wary of glamorizing the brutal violence inflicted by its young subjects that political motivations (possible justifications) and distinctive personalities (humanizing qualities) are largely omitted from the film, but it's not above treating Baader's early outbursts as a kind of outré comic relief.
On the evidence of this film you'd think the RAF cause solely concerned foreign governments (the evils of American imperialism are cited time and again, and the film essentially begins at a protest of the shah of Persia's state visit to Berlin) and not at all Germany's own establishment, then filled with holdovers from the Nazi days. Instead of touching that topic, Edel and Eichinger give the powers that be the most flattering portrait possible in Bruno Ganz's thoughtful head of police, Horst Herold, the only person in the film to truly see the big picture: terrorism is the future of war, and one must not merely know but actively seek to understand thine enemy. Herold brings a large pot of lobster soup to one meeting, generously ladling it out to his subordinates. All this when many characters in the film remain indistinguishable from each other and major parts of major events go un-dramatized in favor of a lazy padding of archival footage. But if this is the filmmakers' idea of personality, then perhaps it's for the best that none of their characters seem to possess it.
If you're still left with any doubt by the end credits about which speaks louder, action or words, then the landmark Dylan protest anthem "Blowin' in the Wind" should clear it all up. That The Baader-Meinhof Complex is still second-guessing whether it's siding too much with the pretty young things with the pistols after the final fade to black is a real testament to how disastrously overcautious it is.
Opens August 21