Germany in the 1970s: Murderous bomb attacks, the threat of terrorism and the fear of the enemy inside are rocking the very foundations of the still fragile German democracy. The radicalised children of the Nazi generation led by Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu), Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck) and Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek) are fighting a violent war against what they perceive as the new face of fascism: American imperialism supported by the German establishment, many of whom have a Nazi past. Their aim is to create a more human society but by employing inhuman means they not only spread terror and bloodshed, they also lose their own humanity. The man who understands them is also their hunter: the head of the German police force Horst Herold (Bruno Ganz). And while he succeeds in his relentless pursuit of the young terrorists, he knows he s only dealing with the tip of the iceberg.
A subject of enduring fascination for Germans (and anybody interested in the more vivid manifestations of the '60s counterculture), the Baader Meinhof gang roared through Europe for years, dividing a population that either demonized or romanticized their exploits. In The Baader Meinhof Complex
the goal for director Uli Medel (Last Exit to Brooklyn
) and screenwriter Bernd Eichinger is to play the material down the middle: to portray the events of the outlaw group without deciding they are either heroes or terrorists. Some of the motives for the Baader Meinhof gang are laid out early on; for instance, that for the generation born in Germany after Hitler's nightmare had ended, a return to fascism was unacceptable--even to the point of guerrilla activities against the state. Some of Germany's biggest stars are involved in bringing the principals to life, including Moritz Bleibtreu (Run Lola Run
) as the self-important ringleader Andreas Baader and Johanna Wokalek (North Face
) as Gudrun Ensslin, his coconspirator and lover. The most intriguing narrative thread of the story comes from the decision by journalist Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck, from The Lives of Others
) to leap from her stable life and abruptly join Baader and Ensslin on the run. The subversive activities of the Red Army Faction (as the group dubbed itself), including bombings and arson attacks, are chronicled in rapid, blunt fashion by the movie, which seems less interested in a thoughtful reflection on these incidents than in shoving them in your face. In that sense, you might begin to wish the movie had taken a side, just to provide some coherent perspective. As a rush of sensations, the film's appeal can't be denied, and it scored an Oscar nomination in the 2008 Best Foreign Language Film category. Although it runs two and a half hours, you might find yourself wishing for more screen time for the investigator (the great Bruno Ganz) tracking down the gang. His character has the gall to suggest that in trying to understand a terrorist group, it is advisable to trace back the roots of their motivations and attempt to grapple with those causes--an idea as unpopular in the 1970s as it always is. --Robert Horton