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The Baader Meinhof Comlpex

Growing out of the largely college-based dissensions that rocked the world in 1967 and 1968, Germany’s Red Army Faction was a domestic terror group that operated through the 1990s. It had a peak of both activity and public sympathy in the 1970s, the period covered by this Oscar-nominated movie that is one of the largest and most expensive productions in the history of German cinema. Based on a book written by Stefan Aust, editor-in-chief of Der Spiegel, it was scripted and produced by Bernd Eichinger (Downfall) and directed by the veteran Uli Edel (Christiane F.). The cast includes a handful of Germany’s top stars (arthouse regulars are sure to recognize at least a few faces).

The result, as you might expect, is not unlike a Steven Spielberg film about the Weather Underground: It’s fast-paced and gripping and holds your attention for two and one-half hours, but leaves you feeling like you don’t know much about these events beyond the surface facts. Part of the problem is that the filmmakers elide a lot of facts that it assumed were familiar to a German audience, like the identity of Rudi Dutschke, whose attempted murder is a key early event. See this film and you’re certain to head afterward, if not to a good bookstore, than to Wikipedia to fill in a lot of holes.

But The Baader Meinhof Complex disappoints to the degree that it fails to maintain the intensity with which it begins. The first half-hour chillingly paints the atmosphere of repression that gripped the world in the 1960s and conveys the determination of some that change was needed. (It also makes the point that, in Germany, this was the generation that, as one character notes, “experienced firsthand how, in the name of the people, concentration camps were built, anti-Semitism spread, and genocide committed.”) It starts out at least to be a film about how people can do the worst things for the best reasons, especially after they find themselves marginalized when public fervor for their cause fades. And if its edge gets dulled afterward to concentrate on the historical facts, it can’t be denied that what’s left is still a pretty riveting story, one that can’t be done justice in a single film.

m. faust

Watch the trailer for The Baader Meinhof Complex

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