Tiny Beam of Light

Shining a tiny beam of light on some great films you might not know existed (and the odd blockbuster too).

Baader Meinhof Complex (2008) dir: Uli Edel

I vaguely knew of the name ‘Baader Meinhof’ as a kid, and sort of (incorrectly) thought of it as a German version of the IRA. This film goes into incredible detail on the origins of the terrorist group Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF) in the late 1960s, founded by a number of young German men and woman, two of whom were ‘Andreas Baader’ and a well known journalist, ‘Ulrike Meinhof’. The film indicates, that initially, the RAF were thought to have the support of 1 in 4 Germans, 7 million people.

Fascinating and absorbing, the film documents the story of the RAF (or the Baader Meinhof Group as they were referred to in the press) and their activities through to the late 1970s – with the backdrop of unresolved conflict in the Middle East (between Palestinians and Israelis) and the US invasion of Vietnam.  Watching the film, it was horrifying at how little some things have changed in the world.

Yet some things seemed so different. There is a striking scene where the RAF have gone to a terrorist training camp in the Middle East. Not only does the group refuse to be segregated into men and women, as is the Islamic custom, but the women sunbathe naked at the camp – in front of the Arab men who are also training there. It’s easy to forget that the politics of this period (of our parents and grandparents) was also about female sexual emancipation.

I notice that some critics have described it as an action movie. It’s not. It is graphically violent, but that’s because the historical events it covers were violent. Death and murder from a hail of bullets is not some pretty glorified slow-mo here.

The story is told in a bleak and dispassionate manner and on a large scale, (there are several impressive sequences), and I found it to be utterly compelling with uniformly superb performances from all the cast.

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Filed under: drama, film, , , , , , ,

2 Responses

  1. Bernard Martin says:

    ‘dispassionate’ is not quite right, I think. The ending speech by Mohnhaupt (which recalls the epilogue of Brecht’s Arturo Ui…) suggests a wearines – or wariness – on the part of the Director which is less than unengaged. We’re invited to reflect whether society has changed or not …
    But it’s true the episodic, narrative structure of the film over 10 years is only achieved by a certain distance from a point of view. It smacks a bit of those school history books that cram long timescales into a few pages strong on narrative but light on detail … but as Mies said ‘God is in the details’
    I was in W Berlin in 71/72 when the original BM clowns were in their pomp, systematically it seemed destroying the credibility of the Marxist left. This film gives some idea of the motivations of the kids for whom the BM gang’s glamorous (it was!) political delinquency could lead to a path from which the idiocy of wider society permitted no retreat. They were the precursors of punk: energetic, self-obsessed and politically fatuous. It (just) gives a sense of the curious climate of the times: in ’68 riots and assassinations worldwide unsettled us young people – the world was shifting beneath our feet like quicksand.
    Problems didn’t just go away: in germany – a nation divided (as Israel soon will be) by a Wall – the post war generation was coming to terms with what their parents had done or condoned under the Nazis; in the Uk repression of catholics in Northern Ireland re-awoke the IRA. In Vietnam, Cambodia, France and elsewhere there were stirrings against US hegemony… And over everything hung the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation under the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).
    What it doesn’t touch on is the sense of utter frustration with the mainstream political process that grew out of years of coalition politics in Bonn. This is what led to the Ausser Parlamentarische Opposition (APO) in which Dutschke’s SDS was prominent. After all – in a coalition there’s no opposition IN parliament.
    I think this is probably the best film that can be made about the BM gang just now. And it will help create the conditions for the next best – more condensed, more metaphoric – and possibly more ‘engagiert’ one to come.
    Technically it’s an extraordinary achievement. The impersonations are terrific (and much of the acting is good, too). The cinematography terrific, the props and costumes spot on. Thaks Mr Edel and Mr Eichinger!

  2. lotusjune says:

    This documentary like film is very powerful and compelling.

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