The Baader Meinhof Complex

MPI, 2008, Rated R

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Germany is addressing its past. At least that’s the broad assumption that can be made reflecting upon recent German films that have found success in American theaters: Downfall (the last days of Hitler); The Lives of Others (life under the STASI); and Goodbye, Lenin (the fall of the Berlin Wall).

The Baader Meinhof Complex, a 2009 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee, continues this introspection, charting the rise and fall of the Baader-Meinhof Group, the inner circle of the hard-left terrorist organization The Red Army Faction, which besieged Germany and much of Europe from the late 1960s through the late ’70s.

It’s a gripping story that finds leftist intellectuals joining counterculture radicals to stamp out fascism in the German government and beyond at all costs.

Journalist Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck) and impulsive revolutionary Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu) lead the charge with the German Federal Police, headed by the great Bruno Ganz, sharp at their tail. The struggle results in a decade of hostage-taking, assassinations, bombings and other mayhem that impact both government officials and civilians alike — all captured with a visceral, big-budget bombast that leaves no questions about the group’s brutality despite its noble intentions.

The portrayal of the Baader-Meinhof players holds no such black-and-white distinctions, however. While never denying its severity, director Uli Ledel too often puts the group on a pedestal. Glamorization over humanization is the norm as free love, dope, nudity and grand pronouncements flow free. Even undercutting moments that reveal them as mere hippies playing with revolution seem to miss the irony. Such lionization sits strange next to the group’s destructive activities, creating an uneasy ambiguity that almost excuses their actions rather than providing context. It’s a troubling angle, especially considering the explosive subject matter.

This 2-DVD Special Edition is packed with documentaries, commentaries and featurettes detailing the film’s production, the actors’ preparatory research and more. All are excellent supplements to the film but don’t necessarily allow for a broader understanding of the Baader-Meinhof Group. Bonuses devoted to them would have provided wonderful balance to the hero worship. Grade: B

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