There can be no faulting the casual German-filmgoer in the non-German cinema for thinking Uri Edel’s new film, THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX, was directed by his compatriot Oliver Hirschbiegel, who made the outstanding 2004 film DOWNFALL. Both films were nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards; both are long (over two and a half hours); both feature immaculate period design and superb acting (including the force of nature that is Bruno Ganz); and both are based on terrible, violent episodes in Germany’s history. Most importantly, however, these films form a union based on their objectivity.

Like DOWNFALL, THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX avoids any judgement. The earlier film carries its own weight: we know Hitler was a monster, and possibly psychotic: we bring to the film our own (fair) prejudices, and, remarkably, Hirschbiegel let us. Edel does the same, but in THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX, he is dealing with a much more delicate question, as the monster is not out in the open at all.

Depending on your political leanings, you may find the activities of the Red Army Faction (RAF) in Germany in the 1970s either laudatory or completely reprehensible. The genius of Edel’s film is that he lets you make that choice. Unlike many of the (sometimes very well-made) films about the IRA that surfaced in the 1980s and 1990s, THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX is about as objective about a difficult and contentious subject as a film could get. The story is told through the eyes of the organization itself – there’s no doubting that – but they aren’t celebrated; neither are the German forces out to stop their operations. All the big issues that the RAF were fighting against are examined (in quite delicate detail) but a stand is never taken: the viewer is left to examine the facts – as presented in this movie – for themselves.

This film could be shown in classrooms. It does not take a side – it takes the opposite. Certainly not a docudrama, THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX nonetheless is a level-headed examination of an important period in recent German history. I suspect part of its immense worldwide appeal rests with that: its audience are learning, without being lectured. It is a major film.

2 thoughts on “

  1. Hello again, and yes I’m turning into a serial commenter, ha ha (insert “evil cackle” here). Good call on the commonalities between Downfall and Baader Meinhof. It’s not surprising though – given they’re both written by the same guy, Bernd Eichinger. Since he was also the producer of both films, a strong argument can be made for his being their true auteur, or at the very least, sharing that honour with their respective directors.

  2. Ah – good call Lynden. I really like Eichinger’s style. And the budgets he gets! BAADER MEINHOF must have cost a lot of deutschmarks…

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