Friday, 5 February 2010

Review: The Baader-Meinhof Complex, dir Uli Edel (2008)

Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck, pic) is a journalist who becomes radicalised in the late 1960s through exposure to first-world country Cold War tactics and the friendships she forges with leftist political radicals. Even before meeting Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu) and his woman Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek), Meinhof has been writing aggressive screeds damning right-wing hypocrisy and aggression in Vietnam, Iran, South America.

It's not difficult to see why someone like Meinhof might be attracted to the extreme activities of a group of urban terrorists.

In the beginning of the film, we're shown a motorcade that is bringing Shah Pahlavi to Bonn for a state visit. We keep in mind that Meinhof has already been shown as the author of a strong condemnation, in the press, of Pahlavi.

A group of people holding placards stands behind a row of police and a string of barricades. Then another group arrives, this time on the other side of the police and the barricades, closer to the gleaming limousines conveying the shah to the theatre. They chant slogans in support of the corrupt monarch.

Once the shah has been escorted inside, his supporters turn and approach the protesting students, breaking the signs off their placards as they walk menacingly toward the huddled crowd. With the sticks they hold, the shah's supporters lay into the unprotected students. The police do nothing.

Then, suddenly, once a ruckus has been generated by the venal puppets of the corrupt regime, the German police rush the barricades. Instead of collaring the aggressors, however, they begin to beat the protestors with their truncheons. It's a bloodbath. Clearly, the entire scenario has been orchestrated by the German administration to embarrass the student protest groups.

Finally, a student is shot dead. A cameraman crouches over the supine form as a woman brings a bloody hand away from the man's recumbent head.

Given this form of cocksucking bullshit, it's no surprise that some students become far more radicalised than the state had bargained for. When leftist radical Rudi Dutschke (Sebastian Blomberg) is assassinated by a young fascist, the stage is set for a broader confrontation between the state and the radicals.

The Rote Armee Fraktion (Red Army Faction) - aka the Baader-Meinhof group - begins its crusade against the forces of the evil Right by setting a fire in a department store. After training at a militant camp in Jordan, however, they upscale their work and start robbing banks, blowing up military establishments, and killing judges.

The violence and the isolation of the terrorists made me think about why such groups are so attractive. The RAF inspire hundreds of followers, who go on to carry out acts of violence even when the original leaders are standing trial while incarcerated in Stammheim Prison.

Perhaps, I thought, Ned Kelly appeals to Australians so strongly because of that sense of total isolation from the protection of the world. All of us, certainly, feel this sense of isolation every day of our lives. Why wouldn't we sympathise with terrorists?

Meinhof's conversion comes when she's involved in a scheme to liberate Baader from captivity. Under the ruse that she's working with the terrorist on a book, Baader is brought to a cultural centre to meet with Meinhof - whose cover has not yet been exposed. If she wants, even after Baader has been freed, she can go back to her normal life.

Instead, she eyes the open window of the room where the two prison guards are nursing their wounds. Baader has just leapt out the window along with the friends who freed him. What will she do? Meinhof chooses, and quickly jumps over the painted sill.

The movie is tightly-scripted and well executed. There's violence and there's history. In fact, the movie provides a good backgrounding in the rise of modern urban terrorism. Baader's profetic words, when he's being interviewed by a functionary of the state toward the end of the film, echo down the years.

Things would, indeed, get a lot worse.

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