We now interrupt the Vancouver 2009 reporting to bring you this out of nowhere review. I'd been interested in seeing this film in Palm Springs this past January but made some other choices at the last minute. So it took a while for it to make its way to Seattle (especially given that it was nominated for the foreign film academy award) but it got here eventually. And then it took me another week or two to write/post these notes. :-)
The Baader-Meinhof Complex is film about an interesting piece of history that managed to evoke some pretty strange responses in me. Most notably the ability to find it utterly fascinating and a bit boring almost but not quite at the same time.
The film is a docu-drama about the formation and rise of the RAF German terrorist group in the 1970's to the death in prison of the founders. I suspect the more you know about the group the more you'll get out of the film as characters come and go in a blur. And not really the semi-enjoyable blur of il Divo. I kept thinking things like - 'I wish I knew which character that one is...' Don't get me wrong - I definitely left knowing more about this period of history than I went in with. That and the some of the cinematic high points (one of which I mention below) made me glad I did go - if not quite as thrilled with the experience as I'd hoped for (and admittedly hope for every time I go into the dark of a theater).
First the very good. Near the start of the film German students are protesting the visit of the Shah of Iran. Pro-shah demonstrators start a attacking the protesters only to be joined by the police who savagely beat everyone in sight. Those moments are probably the strongest capturing of the fear and chaos that must accompany such a riot that I've seen on film. In those moments you get the "aha" moment of understanding how this truly could radicalize someone against such a state. And the film further fills in the gaps as some of the to-be members of the terrorist group talk about how they can never again allow fascists to come to power in Germany without resisting. As the generation whose parents were the literal Nazi's I could only imagine that urge to resist a repressive state would have been very very strong. So by way of explaining but not excusing the film does do a reasonable job setting things up.
Unfortunately, the rest of the film didn't capture my interest in the same way as a lot of ground is covered over a fairly short time (that said this is not a short film). Given the number of characters I never felt I got a chance to go deep enough into any of them. And the one character who's the most interesting - Horst Herold ( played well by Bruno Ganz), the top law enforcement officer in West Germany who seems way ahead of his time in seeking to understand the terrorists motivations as a tool to stopping them is almost criminally under explored. Not to mention their approach of using data mining to narrow down where the terrorists are hiding.
There's some humor mixed in (especially when you see the clash of the more liberal Germans attending the middle eastern (and clearly more conservative) terrorist training camps) which at times is illuminating and others just makes the 2.5 hour film more palatable. I've seen some reviews that criticize the film due to a belief that some of the action pacing of the RAF exploits glamorizes what they did. I didn't feel as negative on that point - to me some of the people doing it likely could have been influenced by that aspect of it - so to show it that way made sense. Given the surprising level of sympathy in the German public for the group as depicted in the film, that aspect of derring-do as a public relations plus likely existed at the time anyway. By the end I felt any level of sympathy for their initial urge to resist had long warn out its welcome with me. Just leaving people with objections to their society who were so sure that they were right that they were willing to kill for it. Which historically almost never works out well in the end. Regardless of the cause.
All in all - an interesting topic but a film that left me approaching boredom by its end. As a film I'd have to say a bit flawed - but far from horrible. Somewhere in the B- to C+ category for me.