The Baader Meinhof Complex
|The Baader Meinhof Complex|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Uli Edel|
|Produced by||Bernd Eichinger|
|Written by||Bernd Eichinger
|Based on||Der Baader Meinhof Komplex
by Stefan Aust
|Music by||Peter Hinderthür
|Edited by||Alexander Berner|
|Distributed by||Constantin Film Verleih (Germany)
Metropolitan Filmexport (France)
Bontonfilm (Czech Republic)
|149 minutes 
164 minutes (Extended cut)
|Budget||€13.5 million ($19.7 million)|
The Baader Meinhof Complex (German: Der Baader Meinhof Komplex) is a 2008 German film by Uli Edel. Written and produced by Bernd Eichinger, it stars Moritz Bleibtreu, Martina Gedeck, and Johanna Wokalek. The film is based on the 1985 German best selling non-fiction book of the same name by Stefan Aust. It retells the story of the early years of the West German far-left militant group the Rote Armee Fraktion (Red Army Faction, or RAF) from 1967 to 1977.
In 1967, the Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, visits West Berlin to attend a performance at the Deutsche Oper. Angered at the Shah's repressive policies in governing Iran, a number of young Germans show up to protest his appearance. The German police and the Shah's forces attack the German protesters and one of them, Benno Ohnesorg, is shot and killed without provocation by Karl-Heinz Kurras.
The murder outrages many Germans, including left wing journalist Ulrike Meinhof, who had earlier written articles critical of the Shah. Inspired by Meinhof's outspoken criticism of the government, Gudrun Ensslin leaves her common law husband and child. Together with her new lover, Andreas Baader, and two others she carries out a fire bombing of a department store in Frankfurt am Main. The group is caught and put on trial where they are represented by attorney Horst Mahler, who shares their political beliefs. Ulrike Meinhof covers the trial and is impressed by the group's dedication to revolutionary principles as well as the change which they have brought about within their own lives. Meinhof secures an interview with Ensslin in prison, where the two strike up a friendship.
Meinhof discovers her husband having an affair and leaves with her two children to live with a friend, Peter Homann. Meanwhile, Ensslin and Baader have been released pending an appeal and continue to live a bohemian lifestyle while attracting the loyalty of various young people including Astrid Proll and Peter-Jurgen Boock. After spending some time abroad, Baader, Ensslin and Proll return to Germany at Mahler's urging. They begin to live with Meinhof, who by now has also taken in a young runaway, Peggy Schoenau. Meinhof has become increasingly disillusioned by her inability to achieve change through journalism and is looking to take more direct action. Her chance comes when Baader is arrested at a traffic stop. Using her journalism connections, Meinhof is able to arrange for Baader to be interviewed off prison grounds, where Ensslin and the others rescue him. While the initial plan called for Meinhof to be an innocent journalist caught in the prison break, Meinhof decides to escape with the group thereby implicating her with the crime. Wanted by the law, the group flees Germany.
After leaving Meinhof's children with sympathizers in Sicily, the group travels to Jordan where they are to receive training in a Fatah training camp, but the rebellious nature of the Germans soon annoys their Palestinian hosts. Homann leaves the group after a falling out and learns that they intend to send Meinhof's children to a Palestinian camp from which they will never return. Instead he informs Meinhof's associate Stefan Aust, who returns the children to their father.
Returning to Germany, the group, now styling itself the Red Army Faction, engages in a series of bank robberies and draws increasing attention from the police. One of their number, Petra Schelm, runs a police roadblock and is killed in a shoot-out. This action only angers the RAF and leads to a campaign of bomb attacks directed at German authorities as well as American military personnel based in West Germany. As their notoriety grows and police attention intensifies, more and more members of the group are captured. Baader and Holger Meins are captured after a shoot-out with police. Ensslin becomes increasingly paranoid and is captured trying to change her clothes in a store after a clerk notices her gun. Meinhof is soon captured as well, meaning that virtually all of the RAF's "first generation" members are now in prison.
Initially put in solitary confinement in separate prisons, the RAF members engage in a hunger strike which ultimately results in Meins' death. The RAF consider this to be murder since the prison authorities withheld medical treatment from the critically ill Meins. The authorities then move Baader, Ensslin, Meinhof, and Jan-Carl Raspe to the same quarters in Stammheim Prison. There, they work on their case as their physical and mental states deteriorate.
In 1975, a group of "second generation" RAF members seize control of the West German embassy in Stockholm. The siege ends with a series of explosions, which kill several RAF members and injure the hostages. RAF member Siegfried Hausner survives the blast but is critically wounded. Against medical advice, he is flown back to Germany and dies in a prison hospital. The imprisoned RAF members are appalled by the poor execution of the Stockholm operation, which contributes to their internal dissension. In particular, Meinhof has fallen out with the other members over both her increasing depression and recriminations about the group's tactics. Eventually, Meinhof hangs herself in her cell. The RAF refuse to believe that this was actually a suicide and assert that it was an extrajudicial execution. After Meinhof's death, Baader, Ensslin, and Raspe are able to get other members of their group transferred into their wing. Of particular concern to the authorities is Brigitte Mohnhaupt, whose prison term will be ending shortly and who the authorities suspect will be used to carry orders to free RAF members.
Upon her release, Mohnhaupt hooks up with a group run by Boock, informing him that the leadership has forbidden any more attacks on civilians and enlisting his help to smuggle weapons into Stammheim, implying that the imprisoned members may choose to commit suicide. In retaliation for what they regard as the murders of Meins, Hausner, and Meinhof, the RAF assassinates federal prosecutor Siegfried Buback. Mohnhaupt, along with Christian Klar and Susanne Albrecht, also attempt to kidnap Jürgen Ponto, the president of Dresdner Bank and a family friend of Albrecht's, but when Ponto fights back he is shot and killed. Albrecht is horrified by the murder but is forced to sign a statement justifying the killing. In response to the murders, the authorities force the imprisoned RAF members back into solitary confinement.
The imprisoned members send a message to their free comrades that they fear being murdered by the jailers. Boock and Mohnhaupt's group kidnaps industrialist Hanns-Martin Schleyer, killing four members of his security detail in the process. They demand the release of the imprisoned members in exchange for Schleyer. When the German authorities are slow in meeting their demands, they enlist the PLO to hijack Lufthansa Flight 181. The hijacking ends with the hostages being rescued and the hijackers captured. Despairing of ever being released, Baader and Raspe shoot themselves with guns which have been smuggled into the prison, Ensslin hangs herself in her cell, and Irmgard Möller tries to take her own life by stabbing herself four times in the chest. Horrified by the suicides, the free RAF members execute Schleyer.
- Martina Gedeck as Ulrike Meinhof
- Moritz Bleibtreu as Andreas Baader
- Johanna Wokalek as Gudrun Ensslin
- Nadja Uhl as Brigitte Mohnhaupt
- Stipe Erceg as Holger Meins
- Niels-Bruno Schmidt as Jan Carl Raspe
- Vinzenz Kiefer as Peter-Jurgen Boock
- Simon Licht as Horst Mahler
- Alexandra Maria Lara as Petra Schelm
- Daniel Lommatzsch as Christian Klar
- Sebastian Blomberg as Rudi Dutschke
- Bruno Ganz as Horst Herold
- Heino Ferch as Horst Herold's assistant
- Jan Josef Liefers as Peter Homann
- Hannah Herzsprung as Susanne Albrecht
- Tom Schilling as Josef Bachmann
- Hans Werner Meyer as Klaus-Rainer Rohl
- Katharina Wackernagel as Astrid Proll
- Anna Thalbach as Ingrid
- Volker Bruch as Stefan Aust
The film began production in August 2007 with filming at several locations including Berlin, Munich, Stammheim Prison, Rome and Morocco. The film was subsidized by several film financing boards to the sum of EUR 6.5 million.
The American trailer is narrated by actor Will Lyman, a voice commonly associated with serious documentary films.
Distribution and reception
"When the film opened in Germany last year, some younger viewers came out of theaters crestfallen that the Red Army Faction members, still mythologized, were such dead-enders. Some who were older complained that the film had made the gang look too attractive. But they were dead-enders, and they were attractive. A film about them, or any other popular terrorist movement, has to account for both facts if it seeks to explain not just their crimes but also their existence."
The film premiered on 15 September 2008, in Munich and was commercially released in Germany on 25 September 2008. The film was chosen as Germany's official submission to the 81st Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film.
Hollywood Reporter gave the film a favourable review, praising the acting and storytelling, but also noting a lack of character development in certain parts. A mixed review with similar criticism was published in Variety. Fionnuala Halligan of Screen International praised the film's excellent production values as well as the efficient and crisp translation of a fascinating topic to film, but felt that the plot flatlines emotionally and does not hold much dramatic suspense for younger and non-European audiences unfamiliar with the film's historical events.
Christopher Hitchens wrote a very favourable review for Vanity Fair. He appreciated the film's attempt to strike against conventional Hollywood stereotypes of revolutionaries by making the connection between urban warfare and criminality explicit. By slowly erasing the boundaries, the film revealed the "uneasy relationship between sexuality and cruelty, and between casual or cynical attitudes to both," as well as the tendency of the terrorists to offer their support and allegiance to only the most extreme factions of the revolutionary underground. Hitchens describes the RAF as "a form of psychosis" which swept through all of the post-Axis countries following the war, all of which Hitchens claims had similar leftist terrorist groups. "The propaganda of the terrorists" [...] showed an almost neurotic need to "resist authority" in a way that their parents’ generation had so terribly failed to do." Finally, he praises the film's depiction of an escalating cycle of violence and paranoia in "which mania feeds upon itself and becomes hysterical."
Film and Red Army Faction scholar Christina Gerhardt wrote a critical review for Film Quarterly. Arguing that its nonstop action failed to engage the historical and political events depicted, she wrote "During its 150 minutes, the film achieves action-film momentum—bombs exploding, bullets spraying, and glass shattering—and this inevitably comes at the expense of quasi journalistic exposé or historical excavation."
Film-maker Olivier Assayas who also made a film on left-wing terrorism with Carlos the Jackal remarked that the fact that the film addressed a very painful subject for modern Germany "was some kind of revolution," however he also remarked that its political perspective was limited: "I’m not German and I’m not an expert, but I never really bought the collective suicide theory. For me it’s absolutely impossible to believe. So I don’t think The Baader Meinhof Complex fully addresses the issue. The supposed suicides in Stammheim prison are for me the elephant in the living room of German politics dealing with that subject. You have to take a position on the subject and face it. The Baader Meinhof Complex doesn’t exactly face it."
The Filmbewertungsstelle Wiesbaden, Germany's national agency which evaluates movies on their artistic, documentary and historical significance, gave the movie the rating "especially valuable." In their explanatory statement the committee says: "the film tries to do justice to the terrorists as well as to the representatives of the German state by describing both sides with an equally objective distance." The committee asserts: "German history as a big movie production: impressive, authentic, political, tantalizing."
Reception from family of those assassinated by RAF
Michael Buback, the son of former chief federal prosecutor Siegfried Buback, who was assassinated by the RAF in 1977, expressed doubts concerning whether the film seriously attempts to present the historical truth, although he had not seen the movie when he expressed this concern. He subsequently amended this statement, but pointed out that the film concentrates almost exclusively on portraying the perpetrators, which carries with it the danger that the viewer will identify too strongly with the protagonists.
Protesting against the historically "distorted" and "almost completely false" depiction of the RAF's assassination of leading German banker Jürgen Ponto, Ignes Ponto, his widow and witness, returned her Federal Cross of Merit, since she saw the German government, which co-produced the film through various film financing funds, as jointly responsible for the "public humiliations" suffered by her and her family. Representing the family, her daughter Corinna Ponto called the film's violation of their privacy "wrong" and "particularly perfidious."
Jörg Schleyer, the son of the assassinated manager and then president of the Confederation of German Employers' Associations, Hanns Martin Schleyer, states, however, that the movie was a great film which finally portrayed the RAF as what it actually was, "a merciless, ruthless gang of murderers." Commenting on the blatant depiction of violence he said, "Only a movie like this can show young people how brutal and bloodthirsty the RAF's actions were at that time."
The German TV channel ARD aired the film split in two parts with new footage added to each part. This extended version was later released in Germany on DVD as well. The first part adds ten minutes and 41 seconds of new footage, the second part 3 minutes and 41 seconds.
- "THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX (18)". British Board of Film Classification. 2008-10-31. Retrieved 2012-06-11.
- "Der Baader Meinhof Komplex - Box Office Data, Movie News, Cast Information - The Numbers". The Numbers. Retrieved 2012-06-11.
- A Match That Burned the Germans by Fred Kaplan, The New York Times, 12 August 2009
- "Kino: Premiere für "Der Baader Meinhof Komplex"" (in German). Die Zeit. 2008-09-15. Retrieved 2008-09-15.
- Kaufmann, Nicole (2008-09-16). "The Baader Meinhof Complex to represent Germany in the race for the Academy Award". German Films. Retrieved 2008-09-16.
- The Baader-Meinhof Complex Rotten Tomatoes
- Bonnie J. Gordon (2008). "The Baader Meinhof Complex". Hollywoodreporter.com. The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2013-03-06.(subscription required)
- Boyd van Hoeij (2008-09-25). "New Int'l Release: "The Baader Meinhof Complex"". Variety (online). Retrieved 2008-10-10.
- Fionnuala Halligan (2008-09-26). "The Baader Meinhof Complex (Das (sic) Baader Meinhof Complex (sic))". Screen International. Retrieved 2008-10-10.
- Christopher Hitchens on The Baader Meinhof Complex Vanity Fair, 17 August 2009
-  Film Quarterly, Winter 2009
-  Film Quarterly Winter 2010, Vol. 64, No. 2
- "Schelte von Buback, Lob von Schleyer" (in German). Der Spiegel. 2008-09-17. Retrieved 2008-09-17.
- "Buback-Sohn sieht im RAF-Drama einen Täter-Film" (in German). Die Welt. 2008-09-20. Retrieved 2008-09-30.
- The Romance of Evil by Fred Seigel, City Journal, 18 September 2009
- "In geschmacklosester Weise – Streit um "Baader-Meinhof-Komplex"" (in German). Sueddeutsche Zeitung Online. 2008-10-07. Retrieved 2013-03-06.
- Aust, Stefan (2008). Der Baader-Meinhof-Komplex (in German). Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe. ISBN 978-3-455-50029-5. (English translation The Baader-Meinhof Complex published 2008 by The Bodley Head, ISBN 978-1-84792-045-4)
- Eichinger, Katja (2008). Der Baader-Meinhof-Komplex: Das Buch zum Film (in German). Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe. ISBN 978-3-455-50096-7.
- Official website (US)
- The Baader Meinhof Complex at the Internet Movie Database
- The Baader Meinhof Complex at AllMovie
- The Baader Meinhof Complex at Box Office Mojo
- The Baader Meinhof Complex at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Baader Meinhof Complex at Metacritic
- Tragedy, Terrorism, and Glamor: A Review of The Baader Meinhof Complex