So for the next two days in the Politic-A-Thon I’ll be covering films concerning Germany’s political history during the Cold War with The Lives of Others for East Germany and today’s review, The Baader-Meinhoff Complex, a brilliant film about the actions of the Baader-Meinhoff Gang from 1968 to 1977.
The main focus of the film is on the different stages of the Baader-Meinhoff Gang (RAF) throughout the lives of the first generation members. This goes from the initial actions of firebombings, to their period in a PLO training camp in Jordan, to their robberies upon their return to the FRG, to the trial of the leading members and finally the suicides of the first generation leaders. One thing I love about the film is that the first 20 minutes is spent on setting up the political climate in the FRG at the time, with recreations of the shooting of Benno Ohnesorg at the protest against the Shah of Iran’s visit in 1967 and the shooting of ‘Red’ Rudi in 1968, which, along with the Vietnam War, the poor conditions of universities and the supposed covering up of Germany’s Nazi past (mainly through the head of the Grand Coalition, Kiesinger, being a member of the Nazi Party during the 1940’s), led to mass protests in 1969. All of this brilliantly sets up the political climate of the time which puts the audience in the frame of mind of the RAF, making you understand why they committed the brutal actions they did. However, not all the major political events in the FRG in this time period are covered, mainly the spying Brandt authorised to deal with the RAF is only explored in one scene and isn’t mentioned again, despite it being a major event in the FRG’s history.
Another brilliant thing the film does is that it is presented from the point of view of Ulrike Meinhoff, a journalist who later became the public face of the gang along with leader Andreas Baader. This gets the audience into the frame of mind for the gang and works brilliantly near the end of the film in setting up the suicide of the gang leaders. A problem with this though is that, after Meinhoff’s suicide, the film isn’t as strong, partly because the best performance in the film has been removed but mostly because the central focus of the film has been removed, leaving the film with no real focus.
The film also brilliantly depicts the actions of the RAF in brutal fashion, showing that, despite their noble intentions, what the RAF was doing was wrong and was actually hindering their efforts to end US imperialism and the FRG’s support for it rather than advancing it. This works best at the end by showing all the different plans of the RAF after the first generation were arrested, all of which fail and lead to constant death, something which was avoided under the first generation, further compounded by the ending of the film, which shows both the severe violence of the gang and how the gang is starting to fall apart. Also helping this are the performances which show the RAF to be filled of violent, sociopathic thugs rather than people that are trying to inspire a revolution, with special mention going to Moritz Bleibtrau as Andreas Baader, who is portrayed as a complete psychopath, especially during the prison and trial scenes, in which he does everything in his power to get out of prison or end the trial, even insulting the judge, violence against the guards and filling his speeches with rhetoric to get the public on his side. However, the brilliant performances don’t extend to the government officials trying to combat the RAF as, with the exception of Bruno Ganz and the people playing the judges at the end of the film, most of the performances come across as extremely boring and did nothing to invest me in their efforts to capture the RAF.
Overall, The Baader-Meinhoff Complex is a really good film. The brilliant performances and writing show how brutal the RAF was as a gang whilst also putting their actions into context with the politics of the time, showing that the group could have had some success and all the deaths would have been prevented if the RAF had focused on peaceful actions instead of resorting to terrorism.
My Rating: 4/5