Customer Reviews: The Baader Meinhof Complex (Widescreen Edition)
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on October 5, 2009
West Germany, 1967: After a disastrous engagement between the federal republic of Germany's left wing student population and parties sympathetic to the visiting Shah of Iran degenerates into street violence and results in the firebombing of a department store and an assassination attempt on the life of socialist firebrand, Rudi Dutschke, a group of increasingly disaffected German students and petty criminals begin to coalesce around the magnetic personalities of malcontent street punk, Andreas Baader, and his girlfriend, Gudrun Ensslin. Amongst those caught in their gravity is middle-class, left-wing journalist and media personality, Ulrike Meinhof. Baader and Ensslin have decided that politely protesting the policies of American and Israeli "Imperialism" with acts of civil disobedience is no longer enough and decide to engage in armed struggle against the constitutional powers of West Germany. Over the next ten years, the result of the alliance between Baader, Esselin and Meinhof, The `Red Army Faction' (aka the Baader-Meinhof Group), was to terrorise not only the FDR, but the governments and populations of countries far beyond it's borders.

Attempting to relate the tale of the rise to prominence of the RAF, much less adapt Stefan Aust's incredibly convoluted door-stopper of a book, was, I suspected, going to be nigh-on impossible - but Uli Edel's film achieves this virtually impossible task with aplomb. As well as being one of the most impressive thrillers that I've seen in years, its also one of the most fascinating portraits of the corruption and degeneration of political idealism ever to make its way to screen.

Performances are for the most part excellent and Moritz Bleibtreu perfectly embodies the essence of Aust's rendering of Baader - essentially a wayward, misogynistic hooligan who seemed more interested in playing with machine guns than liberating the "oppressed of the world". The yin to Bleibtreu's yang is Martina Gedeck's turn as Ulrike Meinhof: who appears to have been a cosseted champagne socialist who eventually became so misguided and so passionately committed to the struggle against "oppression and imperialism" that she was rather horrifyingly prepared to deliver her own children into a camp for Syrian orphans rather than see them raised under "the yoke of imperialism". There is a telling suggestion that the catalyst which may have precipitated the already fragile Meinhof's fall was the discovery of her husband's infidelity.

From a directorial stance, Edel manages to pull off the difficult trick of observing both sides of the conflict without favouring either. His rendering of the government in the FDR in sixties is anything but nostalgic and seems to suggest that it was inevitable that a group such as the RAF would eventually arise from the formenting crucible of social, political and governmental dissatisfaction that prevailed at the time. On the reverse side of the coin however, it cannot be argued that his sympathies lie with his revolutionary protagonists either, as he is only too willing to clinically dissect their personal failings as well as the raving hypocrisy of their objectives and opinions.

A fascinating portrait of an extreme group of misguided individuals living through the most turbulent period of the late twentieth century, "The Baader Meinhof Complex" is a fascinating study of personal obsession played out through political objectification and one of the best films that I've seen this year.

Highly recommended.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon February 13, 2010
The Baader Meinhof Complex is an at once exhilarating and horrific depiction of the rise and fall of a very prominent left-wing extremist group in '70s Germany, formed from an uneasy alliance between journalist Ulrike Meinhof and the incendiary couple Andreas Baader and his girlfriend Gudrun Ensslin. The film explores the initial motivations for their radicalization, the shift from anger and rebellion to increasingly violent acts of terror, and the dissolution of the group's ideology into seeming incoherence as the personal began to overwhelm the political. While watching I wondered if the casting choices had made the characters more appealing than in real life - they were all very striking young men and women - but a bit of research shows it to be quite accurate. They did a remarkable job in capturing the likeness of the actual individuals depicted.

It is a complex film, that highlights the allure of the struggle, at the same time as it reveals the individuals behind it to be deeply human and imperfect, at times conflicted and at others resolute, even dogmatic, to the point of becoming what they had initially struggled against - these are not the mythological figures that came to be idolized by some and hated by others. A fascinating paradox explored by the film is that in war one side inevitably takes on qualities of its enemy: to fight an underground extremist group, the state must employ its tactics, must become flexible and bend the rule of law and its protection of individual rights such as privacy; to stand up against the force of a powerful regime, the anarchic underground must increasingly become autocratic, must not tolerate dissent.

The film is beautifully shot, and edited for an ideal balance of intensity and clarity. There is the feel of a living situation - characters don't have constantly to explain themselves to each other, and you feel the urgency with which they experience their own moments in time - and yet, there is enough laid out that even those unfamiliar with the actual history this is based on should be able to catch up quickly and follow along. The decision to incorporate real footage from the era creates a sense of authenticity and even current relevance that is hard to shake off, emphasizing that this film cannot simply be approached as an escapist fantasy. The reception of the film in Germany at the time of its release was telling - on the one hand there were those who felt that in taking both sides the film failed to capture the heroism and ideals of the leaders, who are still revered by many; and there were others who felt that the decision to tell most of the story from the point of view of the Baader Meinhof group members had the dangerous potential of creating an identification with them and of making their actions seem too glamorous.

In fact the film manages both to clarify and make vividly real the sense of a holy war or struggle that young people felt at the time, and to show that these extremists were not simply the vicious killers they had been demonized to be; but also to demonstrate that their ideals and imperfections led to horrific actions, that in many cases destroyed lives without having any clear outcome that could possibly motivate or justify such violence. I was very young at the time of these events and only remember vague hints of them, but even now going into the film I knew very little of the details. Definitely worth watching -- both as a valuable history lesson, and as a spur to the kinds of discussions that we need to be having about the meaning and motivations of what we call "terrorism." As the German head of police, played in this film by the always excellent Bruno Ganz, suggests: it is easy enough to demonize the "enemy" but there can be no true or lasting victory over extremism and violence without understanding its perpetrators and their perceptions.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon August 20, 2010
I lived in Germany during the RAF era. As a military brat we were in fear of this group, as both Frankfurt and Ramstein experienced terrorist attacks by this group.

The news clips that were used in this movie are genuine. I remember that old man on the German news. The terror lasted all through the 1970s.

It was therefore haunting to see this movie again. All the actors were so believable as their actual characters they were playing. Watch the 30-minute "Making of the B-M Complex" and you will learn that the director, Uli Edel, used all genuine parts, even using the actual court hall of the prison in which the real terrorists were interviewed (and denied) parole. The prison cells were designed according to old photographs of the real prison cells, down to genuine sinks. The actors spent endless hours studying the mannerisms and speech patterns of their roles. Actor Martina Gedeck almost looks like the younger sister of Gudrun Ensslin, the "brains" behind this group of misfits.

I didn't read the book; my opinions are based on memory. The scenes in this movie are non-stop action and at times overly graphic in their violence, but this is how B-M acted. Even how the group slowly fell apart due to newer generations of this group not being in sinc with the original founders, is quite obvious. The Baader-Meinhof gang was a group of highly intellectual but badly misguided and violent group of extreme-left-leaning students whose guilt of their parents perhaps got the ball rolling.

Say what you may, "This is part of our History" said Edel, and this movie shows this history well. This movie deserved the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.
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on December 10, 2009
I lived in Germany at this time and it is interesting to see that this group of misfits that held the country in the grip of uneasy fear and paranoia are largely forgotten now. What I like about the film is its depiction of how utterly vapid these "revolutionaries" were, and how much radical terrorism is really a nexus of patchwork politics married to the simple adrenaline thrills of delinquency and crime. Andreas Baader was a punk, pure and simple. His girlfriend Gudren Eisslen seems to be a middle-class brat working out her "daddy issues" through the endless prattle of revolutionary rhetoric. Ulrike Meinhof was a leftist journalist opting out of Fraudom by joining with these losers and becoming their self-justifying voice. None of this would matter, except they murdered real people and were the inspiration for other like-minded malcontents who went on to do the same. They were celebrated by the radical chic crowd of the time, and the myth surrounding them needs to be examined and debunked, as it is to some extent in this film. Then they need to be exiled to a tiny historical footnote and forgotten.

The thing often missed about radicals is that they are insufferable bores. Narrow-minded, egotistical and self-aggrandizing, dysfunctional and generally unhappy and pathetic people they create a romantic fantasy about revolution that is a perfect rationalization for psychopathy. What can you say about people who want to save the world by blowing it up? Well you can say we are living with the ultimate expression of that now with radical Islam, and ain't that fun? This pack of worthless individuals in the Germany of the 1970's were the terrorists of their day. Debated and discussed, exhalted or excoriated in the media, a source of fascination to youths disenchanted with the monotonous bourgeoise success and conformity of post-war Germany. In short, adolescents. And so much of the radicalism of that time was simply adolescent cheap thrills and a way to get laid.

The filmmakers, old leftist themselves who haven't completely come to terms with their own enrapture of that era but middle- aged and reflective now, have caught the feeling of the time, and their depiction of the "banality of evil" that is the ultimate pronouncement on the meaning of the Baader-Meinhof Gang is revealing not only of this group at this time, but the current crop of radicals amongst us today. By and large they make a lot of noise, accomplish little, and you would be hard pressed to want to spend an afternoon with any of them. They themselves are forgettable, unfortunately their crimes cannot be for the suffering they inflict is all too real. Anyway, the film-making is excellent and the cast very good, so it is worth seeing.
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on December 10, 2009
I enjoyed the film immensely, and found it to be an excellent study into radical/extreme leftist politics and how some groups evolved into violent terrorist groups that lost sight of a utopian ideal that perhaps never truly existed. Stefan Aust's recently updated (and well-researched) book from which the movie is based on is captured well, albeit the movie moves as a much faster pace while the book provides excellent background and description of events of the times the RAF existed. I do not think the movie portrays the RAF in a sympathetic light, but aptly demonstrates that while the RAF had a utopian ideal, the simplistic and extremist thinking of the group led them to commit horrible atrocities in the name of a "higher morality," echoing the long quoted phrase "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." While somewhat confusing and unclear at times (such as the transition of introducing the second and third generation of RAF members), it is nonetheless useful to also watch the documentary of the making of the film to clarify certain points. This would be an excellent film to use for a beginning sociology or political science class that examines extremist political groups. Also, I found nothing wrong with the size of the subtitles, unlike some people who posted earlier. Don't let that discourage you from seeing the film.
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on February 28, 2010
The Baader Meinhof Complex marks another successful historical drama for the German film industry (after The Lives of Others, a superb film about the East German surveillance society, Downfall, an equally excellent portrayal of Hitler's last days, and Sophie Scholl - The Final Days, a slightly less outstanding movie that tells the little known story of internal resistance to the Nazis).

The film revisits the 1960s and 70s' and the notorious Red Army Faction led by Andreas Baader (played by Moritz Bleibtreu), his lover Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek) and Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck, who also starred in The Lives of Others). The story begins to take shape when a protest of the Shah's visit in 1967 becomes the infamous June 2 police riot, which the film makers marvelously recreate. This event launches the journalist Meinhof on her journey to radicalism. Like their compatriots in other countries young Germans rebel against all forms of authority and protest against the Vietnam War. German youth had the added fuel of knowing that the generation of the authorities had failed to rebel against Hitler.

The movie's pacing and focus on action keeps the viewer riveted as the Baader Meinhof group becomes increasingly radicalized. Bank holdups almost inevitably lead to violence. The violence leads to police reaction and repression. Eventually the leaders end up in prison. They see themselves as political prisoners, which is true to the extent that their crimes were politically motivated, but not in the sense that they imprisoned because of their political beliefs. Their primary focus then becomes to get the leaders out of prison and they pursue that end with increasingly desperate, not to say suicidal, actions (seizing the German embassy in Sweden and finally coordinating the hijacking of a Lufthansa plane with Palestinian extremists). The internal logic runs amuck.

The movie initially evokes sympathy for most of the members (not Baader; he is portrayed as a homicidally-inclined authoritarian who has found a perfect bunch of new friends). The uptight establishment needed to be challenged, the War in Vietnam was wrong, the West did exploit the Third World (of course, so did the East). Their hedonism is appealing (not so much to their Arab associates). They were young, audacious, and beautiful (they weren't really that alluring were they?).

But their politics and their political actions were ludicrous (not to say infantile). In this sense, they remind me of the Weather Underground. Baader Meinhof was more violent, more often, but just as detached from political reality. Neither organization had any mass base or posed any threat of revolution whatsoever, but they deluded themselves that they were doing something politically important. They were aided and abetted in this self-important view by the police (especially in the US) who reacted as if the groups were a serious threat to political stability. Both groups underestimated the ability and willingness of Western governments to adopt totalitarian tactics to destroy leftists who resorted to action in the street.

I don't know whether the movie gives soft handling to the German police or not; maybe they really were more restrained than the infamous local US police and FBI `red squads'. The leader of the anti-radical unit (played by Bruno Ganz who played Hitler in Downfall) is portrayed as thoughtful and generally moderate, but the rank-and-file police are shown handing out beatings and the prisoners are subjected to lengthy terms of solitary confinement. But the movie does not pursue explore the possibility that government-paid agitators might have attained leadership positions (as they most certainly did in the US).

Fortunately, the movie focuses on the action rather than the ideology (Mao is cited only once or twice). The film does not romanticize the revolutionaries nor does it expend energy trying to figure out the `why'; no navel-gazing or introspective brooding. But action was what Baader Meinhof was about, not reflecting on whether the action made any sense. The best thing that I can say about the movie is that it will help anyone over 50 explain the Sixties to their children and entertain as well.
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on December 31, 2012
An outstanding film of the radical Left in postwar Germany. It is very well made, and appears researched and objective. It is a film which requires more than one viewing, and is interesting to watch the metamophysis of the Baader-Meinhof outfit from the original members as compared to their later recruits. It is interesting to think that the Baader-Meinhof crew could have existed for so long in the BRD, as they would not have had a snowflakes' chance of survival in the Germany of their parents. A very absorbing film on politics and terrorism.
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on April 26, 2009
Having ordered and watched the Region 2 version from the film itself was great, but the subtitles on the dvd were microscopic and required the viewer to rearrange furniture so that nobody was sat further than three inches from the screen. The inexplicably terrible job with the subtitles did a great disservice to a brilliant film.
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THE BAADER-MEINHOF COMPLEX. Hmm. It struck me as important to concentrate on an evil that is palpable in this film: urban terrorism as avante-garde chic. The rather lavish special effects made me ill. Perhaps that is an important message, but I've seen enough in my time. Seeing it in film is not my cup of tea.

This is a story, a true story but it seems some aren't really sure. It deals with a bunch of self-centered little idiots in late 1960s West Germany who get fed up with what they view as police brutality ... something that may have been planted there by East Germany anyway. They start talking themselves into a frenzy and soon become a Red Army of sorts.

Except for the fact that it is all idiotic, gratuitous violence for them and their schizophrenic ideals, it works out pretty well. Lots of explosions, murders, the most vicious of name-calling.

The big problem is these kids are fighting for NOTHING. They stupidly chant Ho Chi Min's name without understanding the wider scale of Viet Nam. They publicly worship the self-Messianic-obsessed Che Guevara. They are big, ugly bullying babies with guns that they get from the neo-NAZIs.

Why be apologetic about it? These people think they are the Savior Bunch. Who cares if heads get broken and bombs go off, as long as they are happy? (Or rather, happy in their discontented, ruthless and brainless violence.)

I suspected (when I noticed certain things in this film) that these are the same Germans who were involved in the Entebbe incident. Certainly that and Munich came to mind. It is a simple cycle: call some police a few choice names; start a cycle of violence. Get tossed in jail and give the newly forming terrorist cells a cause to fight for; get out of jail and find better ways to terrorize a confused populace. Like getting in bed with the Palestinians. Simple.

What is weird is when I watched this film I had seen an odd 2002 movie called Max (see my review), starring John Cusack as Max the Jewish art dealer (fictional character) and Noah Taylor as a young Hitler trying to sell him his paintings (fictional event). In the end, Hitler is screaming his speech in a beer hall. He goes up to Max, who is Jewish, and tells him "politics is the new art, the all-encapsulating spectacle." Hitler really believed that. So too did the kids portrayed in THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX, and it was just too creepy seeing one thing bleed into the other, one allegedly the ultimate cause of the other.

In reality this is an expose of brutal ideas overtaking weak minds. Oh, they can reason things out a few degrees, perhaps, but they are weak and without vision. They are without any proper human feeling at all. So they act - ACT, mind you - like they care about something. As Bruno Ganz's brilliant character answers to the query of why there are so many new terrorist cells: "Because they believe in a myth."

Perhaps these types of terrorism-glorifying movies are in the same predicament.
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on May 23, 2016
Excellent film. I highly recommend this movie for educators, students and the curious alike. Political terror is not knew and it is easy to forget how it was in europe in the 1970's. Interesting character study of main characters as well. Ironic how many of these groups were portrayed at the time, some people media included often painted these groups as modern day Robin Hoods.
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