Der Baader Meinhof Komplex (The Baader Meinhof Complex) Reviews
What "Baader Meinhof" does well is bring you into the moment. Ulrike Meinhof is at first an opinionated columnist who denounces Government practices and shows support for some of the rising anti-Government movements happening in her country. She moves from being observer and chronicler to active participant after meeting Andreas Baader and his partner Gudrun Ensslin after they bomb a department store.
"Baader Meinhof" is an incredibly well-researched film and that academic excellence mars its ability to become an encompassing film. While the performances are great, the film goes into so much exhaustive detail that it keeps you at arm's length disallowing you to fully understand Meinhof, Baader and Ensslin and invest in their fate. By the time they begin to in fight and crumble emotionally and the RAF movement begins to take on a life beyond their control, "Baader Meinhof" becomes a History lesson that you've dozed off on leaving you informed but emotionally uninvested.
The quality of the acting ranges from good to fantastic (with very few exceptions like Alexandra Maria Lara, who is nothing more than wide-eyed again and who thankfully doesn't even have dialogue). Especially Martina Gedeck and Johanna Wokalek are sensational. It is THEIR film and the conflicts in Stammheim which led to Meinhof's suicide are acted Oscar-worthy. But Michael Gwisdek (Ensslin's father), Jan Josef Liefers (Peter Homann), Sebastian Blomberg (Rudi Dutschke), Nadja Uhl (Brigitte Mohnhaupt) and Hannah Herzsprung (Susanne Albrecht) arey good.
It is a similar case with films about painters and writers. The most intense artists always have the most shallow filmmakers interested in making films about them. I'd like to make a film about a superficial filmmaker making a movie about extremely intense subject matter. That would be intriguing.
"Baader-Meinhof Complex" isn't terrible. It is dramatically taut and keeps one's interest. It chronicles the founding of the RAF by Andreas Baader and his girlfriend Gudrun Ensslin and the recruitment of the well-known journalist Ulrike Meinhof to their cause. The scenes where Meinhof joins the group are a perfect example of the film's superficiality. The audience learns almost nothing about why this middle-class mother of two abandons her children and joins a fiercely violent revolutionary group. The most basic motivations of the characters are incomprehensible. Only the most formulaic and glib explanations are offered, such as that Meinhof was tired of just talking and wanted to act.
The poster art is indicative of the film's uncomprehending stance vis-a-vis its subjects. On the poster, Baader and Ensslin are depicted as cartoon characters. The film does indeed present its protagonists as cartoons, and that's why it is a mediocre work of art.
Historical note: I don't know why the group became known as the Baader-Meinhof gang. Based at least on the film's depiction, the group really should have been known by the moniker Baader-Ensslin. Gudrun Ensslin co-led the group with Baader from day one and never strayed from Baader's side. It also is reasonable to speculate that without her there would never have been an RAF. Her revolutionary commitment was ferocious and undying.
Meinhof published many writings about the group, but it doesn't appear she was much of a leader. She also appears not to have been very close personally to either Baader or Ensslin. At the time of her death, furthermore, Meinhof seems to have been reconsidering the wisdom of her life's path in a way that was quite different from Baader and Ensslin, who remained committed to the end.
A look at Germany's terrorist group, The Red Army Faction (RAF), which organized bombings, robberies, kidnappings and assassinations in the late 1960s and '70s. Based on Stefan Aust's best-selling nonfiction book.
Although being somewhat more than moderately interested in politics, I knew very little about the original activities on which this film is based. Having seen the film, I now feel vastly more knowledgeable on how world events in the late sixties and early seventies led from the emergence to the demise of this particular left wing faction. My attention was fully engaged throughout the film. I thought the screenplay brilliantly portrayed the way the mindset of the RAF developed as they became more and more convinced they were living in a police state. Acting and direction were superb throughout. In spite of the violence and repression being depicted, I was reassured by the fact that such thought provoking films can and are being made for today's cinema audiences.
After seeing Die Welle (I think it was three times) earlier this year I am now very enthusiastic about German cinema and shall certainly be hoping to see Der Baader Meinhof Komplex at least once more this year. A masterpiece of political film making. Highly recommended.
Surprisingly the Baader Meinhof gang is portrayed as rather egalitarian, as a lot of revolutionaries could be macho chauvinists. On an unrelated note, most of the gang are runaways, both adult and teenagers. Baader, Meinhof and Gudrun Esselin(Johanna Wokalek) are all parents who are on the run from their collective responsibilities. It takes a charismatic leader to change the course of people's lives like this and Moritz Bleibtreu displays little of that, simply exuding his normal slovenly charm. Actually, the terrorists are playing a game of dare which leads to a deadlier game of unintended consequences, as they lose control and become servants of other causes. Events soon spiral out of control as the government takes on fascist characteristics that they initially banded together to fight. Part of that comes from the group having an id(Baader), and an ego(Meinhof) but no superego to rein them in. While there was no failure of nerve, there was no clear idea when to stop, either.
While some thrills were certainly expected out of this film, I was also fearing some dry spells, of which there are luckily hardly any in this effort, which still has moments in which its pacing gets to be too steady for its own good, giving you the opportunity to see just how bloated this film is at two-and-a-half hours, taking on one too many story layers, and packing on too much excess material, to be all that smooth of a ride. I don't know if the film necessarily gets to be convoluted after a while, but all of this bloating overcomplicates certain areas of this film, while dragging the final product out to a repetitious point that challenges your patience, as well as your investment, though not quite like the conventionalism. Stories of this type have been interpreted time and again, and I wish I could say that this film puts in all that effort to crafting a unique interpretation, but alas, if there is a major trope in films of this type, then this film taps it, if not hits it hard, running more than I expected on a familiar formula, and one that was never to get all that juicy. Don't get me wrong, this film's story is pretty strong, at least enough for you to get the rewarding thriller than this effort ultimately is, but as intriguing as this film is, there are minimalist areas in dramatic weight, and they go more emphasized than they should be by ambition. A lot of heart goes into this project, and on the whole, such inspiration works, but this is a film whose story focus leans a bit more towards the thrills than the dramatic weight, and director Uli Edel just keeps milking all of the intensity over the substance, giving the film something of a distancing cold feel that is certainly not all that severe, but limits momentum and emphasizes other shortcomings. The film's flaws are limited, but those subtle complaints end up going quite the distance in retarding momentum to a degree that holds this pretty promising project back as overlong, formulaic and even a touch distant. Still, while the film isn't as gripping as it perhaps could have been, well, it's still pretty gripping, having moments of looseness to its grasp, but enough potency to catch your investment, as well as your eyes.
A pretty gritty thriller with intense subject matter, this film is hardly a stunner, but cinematographer Rainer Klausmann still really impresses with a taste in heavy coloring and lighting that is distinct and attractive, with a certain harsh handsomeness that is consistently striking, and often does a fine job of capturing the gritty tone of this thriller, much like the action sequences. This type of action thriller is certainly more concerned about what is being conveyed through explosions and gunplay rather than the explosions and gunplay themselves, so, of course, many action set pieces run together, but still keep you glued to the edge of your seat with airtight structuring and an intensely unapologetic portrayal of violence that sometimes gets to be a bit too disturbing to be all that necessary, but is generally brutally effective. This is a harsh film, but there's a certain beauty to this intensity, and whether it's being expressed through a rugged visual style or being expressed through effective action set pieces, the artistic value of this film proves to be complimentary to this subject matter's weight, which is considerable. Like I said, this story is more focused on the intensity of its subject matter, rather then the dramatic weight that was always to be limited yet could really compel if it was celebrated more thoroughly, but, as you can imagine, the origin of the Red Army Faction is a thoroughly intriguing one, with heavy themes - dealing with human, social and political flaws that drove visionaries to defend their questionable beliefs from questionable beliefs through terrorism that really affected social views - that may not be so weighty that the film can fully justify its hefty length and cold overemphasis on events, rather processes, in plotting, but carries potential that is indeed done justice, even on paper. Bernd Eichinger's and Uli Edel's script is a bit bloated, sure, but on the whole, it does a fine job of milking this story's weight for most all its worth, delivering on sharp dialogue to keep slow spells from creeping too far in, as well as on clever characterization that battles through the potentially undercooked areas in exposition to give you a pretty well-rounded feel for the character, further sold by a strong cast of talents, most all of whom deliver on distinguished and compelling performances. This film is driven by problematic characters who could have fallen short as too questionable to be all that compelling, but really, while you're not exactly likely to be sold on the concept of committing acts of terrorism and whatnot, the writing and performances are strong enough for this character study to grip, which isn't to say that much credit for compellingness isn't also due to Edel, as director, because no matter how overambitious Edel may be, his potent atmosphere sustains both entertainment value and intrigue more often than not, soaking up about as much as the effectiveness within the depths of this thriller as the improvable areas. Edel stands to soak up the kick of this subject matter a bit more, but he makes sure that intrigue rarely abates, even when he's the one challenging intrigue with cold spells, and with Edel's inspiration going joined by inspiration within artistry, writing and acting, the final product is left to stand as pretty rewarding.
Overall, steady pacing gives you an opportunity to think about how bloated and somewhat overcomplicated this film is, while formulaic storytelling and a touch too much ambition stress natural shortcomings and threaten the final product, which resists its shortcomings enough through harshly attractive cinematography, thrilling action set pieces and intriguing subject matter - brought to life by inspired writing, acting and direction - for "The Baader Meinhof Complex" to stand as an improvable, but ultimately consistently compelling dramatization of the early days of the Red Army Faction.
3/5 - Good
The film was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 81st Academy Awards and it's petty didn't win it. It was also nominated for the Golden Globe in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Acting and storytelling were superb, screenplay lacks a character development in certain parts and I already mentioned the right dose (or lack) of emotion.
The film tells the true story of the RAF, that?s not the Royal Air Force, it?s the Red Army Faction; a group of disillusioned youths who turned to violence in an attempt to cause social change in late sixties Germany. The group could probably be equated to The Weathermen, except that they were more violent and more active than that American group. In short, these were left wing domestic terrorists who reaped havoc throughout Germany for about a decade, and that?s a topic that needs to be approached carefully.
The title refers to RAF members Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu) and Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck), who became the group?s most famous members. However, the movie does not necessarily focus on either of them and they do not appear to be bilateral leaders of the organization. Rather, this is an ensemble film about an organization that appears to have been somewhat loosely organized. Baader is the member who more closely lives up to what one would expect from an RAF member, he?s young, angry and political. The kind of person who?d normally just wear a Che Guevara T-Shirt but who instead ended up taking arms and emulating him. Meinhof is a bit more intriguing. She began her career as a respected left wing journalist, but finally came to sympathize and ultimately sacrifice everything in order to join the group.
These young people are raging against a lot of things around them, particularly the ongoing war in Vietnam (for which the United States has been using bases in Germany), the treatment of Palestine by Israel, and the general belief that corporations have been controlling everything. They come to the conclusion that to do nothing in the face of all this would be as much of a sin as the conformity the previous generation showed in the face of Nazism. That?s what drove them philosophically, additionally; they were living in a time of worldwide counterculture which is something the film shows very well. The film has a number of montages (perhaps too many) that really drive home the environment which bread this organization and why so many of the youth in Germany came to sympathize with them.
The group?s build is rather interesting as there is a fascinating gender equality to the Baader Meinhoff group. Three of the most important RAF members (Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek), Brigitte Mohnhaupt (Nadja Uhl), and Meinhof), are women and many of them act as aggressively as the men. Do not expect Baader and Meinhof to be some kind of Bonnie and Clyde style lovers in crime. This is the late 60s and the group practices free love, a fact that does not amuse their Palestinian colleagues as evidenced by a scene where they went to a terrorist training camp and gained the reputation of being screw-ups among their peers in the terror business.
Of course, amidst all the 60s clothing and rock music, one must face the fact that these people were killers. Perhaps they were idealistic and well intentioned killers, but killers none the less. That?s what makes this subject matter so challenging; terrorist are probably the least popular people in the world today and with good reason, how do you make these characters sympathetic enough to follow without glorifying them or whitewashing their less savory aspects. This is perhaps not unlike the challenges posed by making a serious film about gangs and organized crime, but magnified by the political elements. To deal with this Edel has chosen to make this a straightforward film about historical events told with meticulous detail and research. Stefan Aust?s book was clearly important to this production for far more than its catchy title, one feels like Edel was interested as much in making an accessible illustrated historical record as he was in telling a cinematic story.
The history here is interesting enough for such a treatment, but it?s also the movies Achilles Heel. The material is never dry, but because this is trying to be so accurate there are developments that go against the nature of film storytelling; important characters emerge in the final act and events occur that seem separate from the main narrative thrust and in general it affair seems a bit unfocused. One wonders if this would be perfected if Edel had been willing to composite a few characters and simplify elements. Quentin Tarentino lovingly asserted in the finale of Inglorious Basterds that film is a stronger force than history, and while I certainly am not recommending that The Baader Meinhof Complex needed to take any departures as radical as Tarentino did, I do think Edel probably should have taken his duties as a film maker a little more seriously than his duties as a historian. Still, the way the film steadfastly presents history in a way that is cinematically compelling if not narratively clan, does make for a very interesting film.