Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Review: Der Baader Meinhof Komplex

Der Baader Meinhof Komplex (2008) is a German movie, but it drips with American cinematic influences. This is ironic, as the central characters (the founders of the Red Army Faction [RAF]) carry out acts of terrorism in protest of what they call American imperialism which stretches from Vietnam to Israel to their native West Germany. It is directed by German TV director Uli Edel, but its operatic scope and gruesome yet cartoonish violence smack more of American masters of blood and guns such as Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese.
Our anti-hero is Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck), a well known liberal journalist who is attracted to the burgeoning RAF by their political message (the West German government is fascist) and free-spirituality. She is at first taken with the charismatic leaders of the group, lovers Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu) and Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek), but, as the RAF's actions become more violent and brazen, she begins to see them for who they are.
There is a key act of he film set in the secluded desert hills of Jordan, where the Baader-Meinhof gang goes to get trained by Palestinian freedom fighters in the ways of guerilla war far. During the classic crawl-rapidly-with-gun-under-barbed-wire-through-ditch-while-being-shot-at exercise, Baader gets bored, telling the perplexed Arab insurgents "we just want to rob banks". And in another scene, during target practice, the hot-headed Baader ceases firing one bullet at a time and opens up rapid fire, telling his frustrated instructors "its more fun". These scenes serve to reveal the RAF's true colors; they are not the righteous, oppressed freedom fighters they pretend to be, but simply bored, sociopathic brats taking advantage of the political unrest of the period (1967-1977) to kidnap and kill public officials and recruit disenfranchised youths to carry on the carnage; the good-hearted Meinhof realized this all too late, and it drives her insane.
While the people portrayed may not be admirable, the film itself is quite excellent. The action is artfully yet organically staged, the camera work is frenetic without causing nausea, and the direction is compelling. But this is really an actor's showcase. Bleibtreu is explosive and rakish as Baader; Gedeck's Meinhof is the moral center of the film, and she sells her heart breaking realization extremely well; and perhaps most impressive is Johanna Wokalek as Ensslin. Wokalek steals every scene she's in; she is a restless, dangerously beautiful force of nature who might shot you as soon as look at you.
Der Baader Meinhof Komplex might seem tedious to some, but it pays to stay with it, especially if you have even the slightest interest in post-war German history. But the film is not only informative, but also full of enthralling cinematic moments. However, the film is a contradiction; it uses cinema to canonize and mythologize people who killed and maimed, themselves fueled by some sort of fantastical notion of fighting the power. They claim to fight against so called American Imperialism, yet they drive around at night, wantonly shooting off their guns, listening to western rock music. The leaders of the RAF act as if they are playing parts in their own action film, so the whole endeavor has a kind of life-imitating-art-imitating-life quality to it.

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