I have to admit it. I’m a sucker for movies about romantic, well-dressed and just plain fucking cool revolutionary groups. The Black Panthers, the Weather Underground, the Situationists, Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation army; wherever you stand on their politics and the morality of their actions, you have to admit there’s a Robin Hood-esque attractiveness to all of them. Some of them also wore some very cool clothes.
The Baader Meinhof Complex isn’t the first film I’ve seen recently about a terrorist group – I reviewed Steve Macqueen’s Hunger a couple of weeks ago (some I’m probably on a Government watch list somewhere) – but where Macqueen’s film is a profound, sombre picture of a men pushed to the edge, the Baader Meinhof Complex is as much about the sex and the style of the terrorists concerned as it is analysing their substance and their actions.
The film, directed by Udi Edel who also masterminded the controversial, but critically acclaimed Last Exit to Brooklyn movie and Madonna’s woeful Body of Evidence, and produced and written by Bernd Eichinger who last brought us Downfall basically tells the story of the life of the group officially called the Red Army Faction, but became more popularly known as the Baader Meinhof group, after two of the Faction’s leading personalities (Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof).
The RAF (no, not them) saw themselves as a politicial group. History views them as extreme left-wingers – they used the Marx as a starting point and were influenced by, Rudi Dutschke – but really saw themselves as sitting outside the conventional ideological framework, so were inevitably described lazily as anarchists. They saw themselves as kicking against authoritarianism – they’d grown up with the Nazi legacy and were determined to do everything in their power to prevent Germany again falling foul of a similar police state nightmare. They did this through a series of revolutionary actions, mostly bomings of what they selected as ‘legitimate targets’.
The Baader Meinhof Complex only pays lip service to the rights and wrongs of the Red Army Faction’s campaign. Frankly, Eichinger and Edel don’t need to, its been dealt with previously by countless documentaries including this fairly recent one from BBC4. This film is instead about the RAF’s actions, its impulsiveness, its vanity, its glamour – what it did, rather than what it thought. In that sense, its an action movie in the truest sense of the word.
It’s the group’s fundamental vanity, that led to its eventual downfall – something defined in the film as the Baader Meinhof Complex and personnified in it by Ulrike Meinhof’s breakdown. The group became less a band of revolutionaries than a killing machine – jettisonning Meinhof’s theory for the guns and bullets and a love of live on the edge of society.
The Baader Meinhof Complex isn’t as great a piece of art as Hunger, but that’s not the point. It doesn’t offer a critique of the RAF, but an intensely entertaining film. It is slightly longer than it should be, and suffers from some horrendous musical choices (Blowin’ In The Wind over the ednd credits and My Generation earlier on – how cheesy can you get?!), but is definitely worth a couple of hours of anyone’s time.
An interesting article from the Guardian on the cultural legacy of the Red Army Faction, here.
A useful Baader Meinhof resource.