Reportedly the most expensive German picture ever made, “The Baader Meinhof Complex” is based on a bestseller by Stefan Aust, a former editor of the influential weekly Der Spiegel. It chronicles in exacting detail the wave of assassinations, bombings and kidnappings after the group, also known as the Red Army Faction (RAF), declared war on what it called the morally bankrupt West German state.
The filmmakers say the picture, which will be released Thursday and has already been selected as Germany’s entry in the Oscar race, will put an end to the glamourisation the young revolutionaries have undergone in popular culture in recent years.
Some of the country’s most influential critics have hailed the film as an authentic look at the most turbulent decade in postwar Germany. But several commentators, including children of the RAF’s members and victims, say the A-list cast and estimated €20-million ($29-million) budget have created a titillating, irresponsible spectacle.
“Bernd Eichinger claims that his film will destroy the RAF myth but the opposite is the case,” one of Meinhof’s daughters, 46-year-old journalist Bettina Röhl, wrote on her blog referring to the screenwriter and producer. “The ‘Baader Meinhof Complex’ is the worst-case scenario – it would be impossible to top its hero worship.”
The Baader Meinhof Gang, dubbed so after its founders Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, captured the imagination of a generation that charged that their parents had failed to own up to Germany’s Nazi past.
Activists inspired by the 1960s student protests against the Vietnam War and US policy in the Middle East became radicalised, resorting to violence and mayhem to bring down West Germany’s young democracy.
A second generation of RAF members continued the campaign after Baader and Meinhof committed suicide in prison following their capture in 1972. But many sympathisers were eventually repelled by the band’s reign of terror. It is believed to have killed 34 people before disbanding in 1998.
“This was, and not just for me, the biggest German tragedy of the postwar period,” said Eichinger, whose 2004 drama “Downfall” set in Hitler’s bunker was nominated for an Academy Award.
Like “Downfall” and the Stasi drama “The Lives of Others” which won the 2007 Academy Award for best foreign language film, “The Baader Meinhof Komplex” was conceived as a blockbuster to help Germans come to terms with another dark chapter of their past.
The cast include Moritz Bleibtreu (“Run, Lola, Run”) and Martina Gedeck (“The Lives of Others”), who appear in hipster clothing and indulge in free love, drag racing in stolen Porsches and orgiastic shoot-em-ups. A stint in a Palestinian militant training camp in Jordan in one scene turns into a farce when the female guerrillas insist on sunbathing in the buff within the sights of the Muslim fighters.
The film has drawn comparisons with Steven Spielberg’s “Munich” in its structure and themes, examining the corrupting power of fierce idealism when the ends are to justify the means.
In recent years, a handful of films and television programmes on the RAF including the 2002 biopic “Baader” were accused of lionising the charismatic, if fanatical, protagonists. T-shirts emblazoned with “Prada Meinhof” or the RAF’s Heckler and Koch machine gun logo rode a wave of “terrorist chic” among 20-somethings in German cities.
The film received major public funding and the German government, ever wary of extremism, threw its support behind the project. “It’s time we had an unflinching look at this topic using film as a medium. Until now, movies tended to make heroes out of the main characters,” the
president of the Federal Agency for Civic Education, Thomas Krueger, told German radio, praising the filmmakers’ efforts.
“But this is a blood stain that soaks a strain of German history. It needs to be confronted honestly.”
Jörg Schleyer, son of industrialist Hanns Martin Schleyer who was murdered by the RAF in the notorious “German Autumn” of 1977, also raved about the picture after its gala premiere.
“The ‘Baader Meinhof Complex’ shows the wanton brutality of the RAF without sullying its victims’ memory,” Schleyer, 54, told the daily Bild. “You see how my father’s chauffeur and another passenger in the car were just slaughtered. It hurts me to watch that but it is the only way to make clear to young people how brutal and bloodthirsty the RAF was at that time. They were not rebels or freedom fighters. They were murderers.”
The film has been sold to several foreign markets and will be released in Britain and France in November.