Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Baader Meinhof Complex (Der Baader Meinhof Komplex)

Stand Off

Although the events portrayed in The Baader Meinhof Complex dates back to the 60s and 70s, this look back at West Germany's struggle with political extremism and armed resistance holds some relevance in today's terror threats, given that it's never always just about tackling the issue as an independent silo, but there's this inter-connectedness with events around the world that shape rationale, objectives and outcome.

Director Uli Edel has crafted an engaging political action-thriller if you might, from Stefan Aust's book about the founders of the Red Faction Army (RAF), one of Germany's violent left-wing anti-capitalist group, whose logo is a combination of a Red Star and an MP5 sub-machine gun. It captured quite succinctly the coming together of the group in their armed push to get their ideologies through to an audience. It doesn't set to glamorize the group, but puts forth the events as they happened, from founding right up until the demise of the first generation leaders, in a trial recorded as Germany's most expensive to date, and the controversial end to it.

The terrorist techniques then don't really differ from those of today, such as bombings, kidnappings, hijackings and assassinations. Terrorist camps become training ground for members to get equipped with guerrilla warfare, and hats off to Uli Edel and his team in accurately reconstructing the major events as accurately as possible, and how they allowed for the smooth juxtaposition of archived newsreels, which at times made the movie play out almost like watching a documentary with ring-side seats to the series of world events, from US political elections to the Vietnam War, and even to the massacre at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. And everyone knows that innocent civilians, once they become unnecessary collateral, tend to chip at the legitimacy of the methods employed, thus being the catalyst to a slide in support. If anyone needs a 101 to terrorist techniques, then the RAF's host of methods employed as seen in the film, allows for that glimpse.

Like what is commonly said these days about one faction being overly zealous in pushing their ideologies across the table, only to encounter an equal force opposing in the other direction, the armed resistance here seemed to have pushed for the justification of a police-like state in order to counter their threats and to keep them under control. But what I found more intriguing, is how support for their activities come from a much wider geography, a network of like-minded individuals or groups who form that kind of help and support for training and logistics, which still holds true in today's context. Also, for any grouping without its charismatic leader clearly in control, it'll still manage to thrive under the next generation of leaders, but focus on the objectives would probably be skewed or diluted, with much deviation from what was originally intended. And there are always eager beavers who would not think twice at solely using violence to achieve their goals.

Art direction was top notch in recreating the feel of yesteryear, and the cast does a great job in their convincing portrayals of historical figures. Despite its runtime of close to 150 minutes, it never for a moment felt dreary to an audience unfamiliar with the politics or significant world events of the time, partly also because of the kind of relevance it holds today, and under Uli Edel's astute direction in keeping a quick pace. If there should be shortcomings, then perhaps it didn't exactly put forth the appeal of the group of anarchists, because at one point it mentioned support coming from one in four Germans, but doesn't go beyond the Us or Them syndrome, or provided some depth into the court proceedings, which in the film looked more like a circus than to serve any purpose.

Germany's entry into the Foreign Language Film category in this year's Oscars, The Baader Meinhof Complex is thoroughly riveting and engaging, and should be in your list of much watch films of the week, instead of opting for the week's summer blockbuster offering.

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