Of all the protest movements that erupted worldwide in the mid-Sixties, the anarchist Baader Meinhof Complex (better known as the Red Army Faction, or RAF) in West Germany was among the most vitriolic, bitter, and enduring, with sporadic urban guerilla uprisings appearing long after the flames of other revolts had died out. Like the Weather Underground in the United States, the RAF mutated out of its broad leftist student base into something increasingly radicalized and violent, alienating many of its former sympathizers with bombings, assassinations, and unrepentant acts of terrorism, including a botched hijacking of a Lufthansa airplane. The Baader Meinhof Complex, produced and adapted by Bernd Eichinger (who also wrote Downfall, which chronicles Hitler’s last days) from a book by journalist Stefan Aust, attempts to dramatize the events that led to the group’s abrupt rise and slow but noisy fizzle.
Attempts is the operative word. At a grueling two and a half hours, the film trades narrative cohesion for a reenacted chronology of West Germany’s postwar anarchist calamity. More an index of Aust’s book than the contents, Uli Edel’s film contains a dizzying litany of dates and locations, and the ever-present blast of gunpowder: like the simple acting-out of a timeline. Considering that it depicts an incredibly heady era in recent German history, the film is surprisingly dull and unimaginative. Gunshots pepper almost every scene with unrelenting frequency; they’re the film’s connecting conceit, stringing together events with their ear-rattling pitch and leaving no room for thoughtful pause. Instead, we get the constant rhythm of retaliation exchanged between longhaired teenagers and stern, slightly pudgy West German police.
Click here to read the rest of Genevieve Yue’s essay of The Baader Meinhof Complex.