West Germany, 1967: After a disastrous engagement between the federal republic of Germany's left wing student population and parties sympathetic to the visiting Shah of Iran degenerates into street violence and results in the firebombing of a department store and an assassination attempt on the life of socialist firebrand, Rudi Dutschke, a group of increasingly disaffected German students and petty criminals begin to coalesce around the magnetic personalities of malcontent street punk, Andreas Baader, and his girlfriend, Gudrun Ensslin. Amongst those caught in their gravity is middle-class, left-wing journalist and media personality, Ulrike Meinhof. Baader and Ensslin have decided that politely protesting the policies of American and Israeli "Imperialism" with acts of civil disobedience is no longer enough and decide to engage in armed struggle against the constitutional powers of West Germany. Over the next ten years, the result of the alliance between Baader, Esselin and Meinhof, The `Red Army Faction' (aka the Baader-Meinhof Group), was to terrorise not only the FDR, but the governments and populations of countries far beyond it's borders.
Attempting to relate the tale of the rise to prominence of the RAF, much less adapt Stefan Aust's incredibly convoluted door-stopper of a book, was, I suspected, going to be nigh-on impossible - but Uli Edel's film achieves this virtually impossible task with aplomb. As well as being one of the most impressive thrillers that I've seen in years, its also one of the most fascinating portraits of the corruption and degeneration of political idealism ever to make its way to screen.
Performances are for the most part excellent and Moritz Bleibtreu perfectly embodies the essence of Aust's rendering of Baader - essentially a wayward, misogynistic hooligan who seemed more interested in playing with machine guns than liberating the "oppressed of the world". The yin to Bleibtreu's yang is Martina Gedeck's turn as Ulrike Meinhof: who appears to have been a cosseted champagne socialist who eventually became so misguided and so passionately committed to the struggle against "oppression and imperialism" that she was rather horrifyingly prepared to deliver her own children into a camp for Syrian orphans rather than see them raised under "the yoke of imperialism". There is a telling suggestion that the catalyst which may have precipitated the already fragile Meinhof's fall was the discovery of her husband's infidelity.
From a directorial stance, Edel manages to pull off the difficult trick of observing both sides of the conflict without favouring either. His rendering of the government in the FDR in sixties is anything but nostalgic and seems to suggest that it was inevitable that a group such as the RAF would eventually arise from the formenting crucible of social, political and governmental dissatisfaction that prevailed at the time. On the reverse side of the coin however, it cannot be argued that his sympathies lie with his revolutionary protagonists either, as he is only too willing to clinically dissect their personal failings as well as the raving hypocrisy of their objectives and opinions.
A fascinating portrait of an extreme group of misguided individuals living through the most turbulent period of the late twentieth century, "The Baader Meinhof Complex" is a fascinating study of personal obsession played out through political objectification and one of the best films that I've seen this year.