Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Uli Edel's The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008)
Good times. Sitting shaded from the sun in her chaise, Ulrike watches her children play in the water at the beach. Through her sunglasses at the bridge of her nose, she reads a magazine article about the rich Shah of Iran and his stylish wife, who are making a diplomatic trip to Berlin soon. Ulrike writes an article for her husband's publication, voicing her opinion of the leader of Iran and the poor state of the world. At a posh party at her home, she reads the article aloud to a captive audience with applause: Ulrike's a talented writer with a gift for prose; she's a voice for a younger generation who often take to the streets in protest. Their protests are met with violence and soon the younger generations collect together to enact some violence of their own. Gudrun Ensslin is young, beautiful, a mother, and angry. Gudrun is informed about the state of her world and is ready to take action. Her lover is Andreas Baader, who's equally passionate and angry, but angry at exactly what is unknown. Baader wants to live life, like right now, and nothing is going to stop him. Gudrun and Andreas's lifestyle and attitude is attractive to Ulrike and she joins the two. Together they become the titular group in Uli Edel's The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008). Uli Edel's The Baader Meinhof Complex is a chronicle of the origins of the RAF and their terrorist actions. The film also covers the three's capture and their trial. The inception of the group begins the story, and it ends with the death of the last survivor. Over a decade of events are chronicled within the film, with accompanying shots of television, newspaper, and radio footage. Beyond the historical chronicle, Edel attempts to punctuate his film with intimate portraits of each of the main three characters. Some sequences are brilliant, and the performances are overall extremely well-done. Unfortunately, the balance between historical chronicle and intimate portrayals is uneven and unsuccessful. The final result is The Baader Meinhof Complex is a beautiful but flawed film.Ulrike Meinhof is the film's most interesting character; receives the most intimate portrayal by Edel; and Martina Gedeck gives best performance in The Baader Meinhof Complex. The film's opening imagery at the beach setting with the nude bathers, Ulrike's children playing happily in the water, and her husband giving a roving eye to a beautiful female, without dialogue, set up the idyllic life which Ulrike thinks herself is living. The photograph of the Shah of Iran and his wife in a close-up shot of the magazine, sitting in Ulrike's lap, is an effective juxtaposition of imagery, not only of events to come in the film but also the important role of the media in the events. Ulrike's prose was a powerful force for the RAF and when Gedeck reads a sample of it at the posh party, it doesn't come off as staged or forced. Gedeck really captures the passion of Meinhof with little effort. When Gudrun Ensslin is imprisoned for one of her earliest political actions, Meinhof covers her trial. Another journalist interviews Ensslin's parents, and Meinhof listens in the shadows. The parents comment upon how impassioned their daughter has become and how it seems as if Gudrun is completely "liberated." Behind her glasses, Meinhof gives a longing and jealous look: Gudrun's life of action is ultimately what Meinhof wants. Finally, in one of the more controversial scenes, in which Meinhof officially becomes a fugitive, Gedeck portrays Meinhof as a reluctant conspirator: it's almost as if Baader's impulsive nature is the catalyst for Meinhof's actions, not his political views. Later, when she is put on trial for her actions, Gedeck coveys beautifully a sense of longing and regret for her actions.Unfortunately, Edel doesn't portray Gudrun Ensslin nor Andreas Baader as intimately. Beyond her introductory scene, little of Ensslin's intellectual ability is shown in the film. Ensslin is obviously full of passion, but her dialogue is confined to short terse statements, often a comment, ironically, upon the inability of words to persuade anyone. Perhaps that was a calculated move by Edel, but the end result is a unsatisfactory rendering of her character. Johanna Wokalek gives a competent and professional performance, but ultimately, her character's main purpose is to serve as Baader's love interest in the film. Andreas Baader is an enigma. For someone who was so integral and important to the RAF, Edel, as with Gudrun Ensslin, gives little insight into the make-up of such a complex character. In the majority of the scenes, Moritz Bleibtreu plays Baader as impulsive and impatient. He rarely ever stands still or delivers a line of insightful dialogue. When the RAF makes a trip to Jordan to train at a terrorist facility, Baader has little patience with the arrangements. Segregated dormitories are backwards, and Baader thinks the training is a waste of time. In some ways, he doesn't see the RAF as an army but more like a virus in the system. The portrayal of Baader's character is as an impulsive and destructive anarchist. Seemingly, Edel's The Baader Meinhof Complex respects the historical background of the film and, for posterity, wants to cover as many of the events and its players, as possible. Edel also wants to imbue the film with as much emotion and tragedy that surrounded the original events. Giving an intimate look inside the characters is admirable, but unfortunately, Edel sacrifices characterization for history. Many collateral characters, who are important for historical accuracy, populate The Baader Meinhof Complex and they really burden the film. Edel's intentions are good, but his execution suffers from their inclusion. Even with the myriad of characters, Edel almost completely omits a perspective from the victims of the RAF. For a film that strikes an interesting and even balance of history and intimacy with its characters see David Fincher's Zodiac (2007). Focusing on one character, like Ulrike Meinhof, perhaps would have been the better course instead of such a strict adherance to history.Finally, the rich history of the actual events of this film are beyond the scope of this entry. Beyond what is written here, I express no opinion towards any cultural criticism of the actual events.