Friday, 28 November 2008

the baader meinhof complex (d uli edel, w. edel & stefan aust)

The easiest way to explain what's wrong with this film is supplied by the music covering the credits, which come after two and a half hours of screen time. As the film ends, and the credits roll, a highly portentous and obviously scored tune pounds out. Then, after a couple of minutes (this is a long film and there is no shortage of credits), Dylan's Blowing in the Wind cuts in. For Dylan aficionados, this is something of a relief. He sings the whole song, but unfortunately there's more credits still rolling. So the film reverts to the former, bombastic score. At which point I left, although given the credits continued to roll they may still have had time to slip in one of Mahler's shorter concertos.

This ending is indicative of a film which doesn't seem to sure how to place or pace itself. In contrast to Downfall (made by the same producer), which was immersed in the unities of time, place and action, The Baader Meinhof Complex sprawls over several years, and moves all over Germany with detours to Rome and a PLO training camp in an unnamed part of the Middle East. The film focuses on the three principle members of the terrorist group, Baader, Meinhof and Gudrun Ensslin, but the other members appear and occasionally take centre stage, (such as when Holger Meins dies), without having been developed in any way, perching somewhat uneasily on the twenty minutes of fame the film allows them. Furthermore, whilst Ensslin's attraction for the bad boy of the Social Revolutionary movement is understandable, (Andreas Baader is portrayed as a kind of anti-Che, a solipsistic, narcissistic egoist), the studious Ulrika Meinhof's choice to become so closely linked to him that their names will go down in history together is never really explored with any kind of subtlety.

The length of the film seems like further evidence of the fact the filmmakers weren't too sure of what they were doing. There's a lot of contextualisation (ie news footage from Vietnam); and a consistent dosage of 'action' sequences, as fetching young Germans who look like something out of an 80's ID magazine shoot show off their prowess with machine guns; but, until the gang is arrested, the narrative and the apparent mission of the urban terrorists has very little shape. Once they are arrested the film develops a point of focus in the prison, although it still can't resist sending young blondes off to wreak havoc where they can get it.

No matter how historically accurate the film is, it doesn't really help the viewer to understand what the individual members of the Baader Meinhof group were really fighting for, and why they apparently engendered so much sympathy in spite of the gratuitous violence of their methods. There are moments of flair in some of the set piece scenes (notably the early demonstration against the Shah's state visit) but even these run out of steam in the plethora of bullets and explosions; and the real complexities of the doomed triangle which composed the leadership of this curiously effective urban guerrilla movement are merely hinted at.

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