Saturday, November 13, 2010

Der Baader Meinhoff Komplex (2008)

This German film, directed by Uli Edel and written by Bernd Eichinger (the same guy who wrote "Das Parfum" and "Der Untergang"),  gives my generation a glimpse into 1970s Germany, where the social and cultural revolution was even more intensified than in the U.S. as the youth of Germany felt a personal responsibility to prevent fascism to rise again.  At the time, the university students in Germany felt American imperialism was encroaching around the world and they felt compelled to prevent another Hitler from assuming power.  One of the protestors, shirtless and brazen, shouted, "Dresden! Hiroshima! VIETNAM!"  I believe this summed up their anger and frustration at the American military response to the 'red terror.'  (In an earlier scene, Gudrun passionately decried America's involvement in the escalation of the Middle East conflict by supplying Israel with fighter jets and munitions.)

The film later focuses primarily on a radical faction of the disaffected youth — the Red Army Faction (RAF).  This group grows increasingly violent as they find peaceful civil disobedience to be ineffective for immediate change.  Their protests and minor crimes for attention soon escalate into organized bombings, robberies, kidnappings, and assassinations.  This film lets you get in the shoes of the terrorists and show what was the impetus for this movement in the first place.

One of the arsonists, Gudrun Ensslin, was interviewed while in custody and she told the journalist:  "This time we will put up resistance.  We have a historical responsibility.  People here and in America eat, eat, and shop, so they can never reflect or gain awareness, because otherwise they would have to do something. [...]  I'll never resign myself to doing nothing.  Never.  If they shoot our people... then we are going to shoot back. [...]  All over the world armed comrades are fighting.  We must show our solidarity. [...]  Such sacrifices have to be made.  Or do you think that your theoretical masturbation will change anything?"

"What we need is a new morality.  You have to draw a clear line between yourself and your enemies.  Free yourself from the system and burn all bridges behind you."

Trailer (in Deutsche because the English trailers don't do the movie any justice):

The movie starts off great with a string of interesting characters, great cinematography, and a gripping storyline.  While the acting is superb by all the major actors and actresses, the film tends to drag a bit after the exposition.  Also, the denouement also seems to be sloppy when compared to the rising action.  The ending also seemed abrupt and unfinished; an epilogue might have helped with closure.  Overall though, I thought the film was great and it stirred up great interest in me concerning the RAF, which I've never heard of before.

I also never knew about the disturbing fact that denazification was not complete in Germany in that many ex-Nazis assumed positions of power in Germany after the war.  (source:  Wikipedia — Red Army Faction).


  1. Hey Kyle, looks like an interesting one. How did the movie make you feel in relation to what it said about American culture? Do you think that the European imagination of America is an attempt to make them feel less guilty of partaking in capitalism? I'd be really interested to hear more about how you react to the critique these kinds of films make on America.

    Looks like it'll be a hard one to find though.

  2. I watched it streaming on Netflix, since I have an account. It's a critically acclaimed film, so it should be available at most major rental places.

    Granted this movie is set during the '70s, so even American youth at the time were highly critical of the actions of the American government and the military, not just Europeans. I know where you are coming from but I think at the time there may have been even more anti-American sentiment than now. America was engaging in a highly controversial war in Vietnam and it was blatantly supplying Israel with weapons. Also, it was waving its big stick around in Central & South America. This was also the time of Mao Zedong and other revolutionary movements (hence the comment about "armed comrades" around the world fighting fascism and oppression and Germans needing to show "solidarity.") Many European young adults, especially those in university sympathized with these movements (remember "Dreamers?").

    I think Europeans in a way do have a right to point and blame since their society is socialist democratic society and much less capitalistic than America. In many ways, they do practice what they preach by providing basic amenities and even provide things like healthcare and university education to all, while those things are available only to those few with the means in America.

    I find it easy to dissociate America as a whole, usually referring to the military-industrial complex, and the current regime's policies and individual Americans. After doing some traveling in the American West, I have a newfound admiration and hope for "America" because of the diversity and pockets of more enlightened society. I'm heavily against the mainstream American culture but I don't think one should give up hope for the American experiment. I've met and been to some fantastic places in the U.S. recently, which have confirmed and rekindled my love for this nation.

    “So, Two cheers for Democracy: one because it admits variety and two because it permits criticism”
    -E.M. Forester

    "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism."
    -Howard Zinn

  3. Also, while the basis of capitalism is attacked by the revolutionaries their focus has always been to stem the American military presence worldwide. They were horrified by the alarming mortality rate of unarmed, innocent Vietnamese victims at the hands of American soldiers. This was the greatest impetus to rallying the German youth into joining the ranks of the radical RAF terrorist group.

    The Germans were also personally offended and angry that the U.S. was establishing so many military bases throughout their sovereign nation and deploying troops from Germany into other nations. RAF in the beginning only targeted U.S. military bases like in Heidelberg and bombed those locations, careful never to hurt average citizens unrelated to the American military presence. Of course, this didn't last long and there was also a lot of internal dissension as some wanted to be more radical and some thought innocent lives could be sacrificed for the greater cause. Also, the 2nd and 3rd generation RAF, clearly did not adhere to the ideals of the 1st (as you'll see in the movie).

    I respect Europeans for at least trying to live by their loftier ideals. While Americans, merely scoff at Europeans and state how impractical and absurd it is and point to their flaws rather than attempting something grander than the status quo.

  4. Hey Kyle, I watched the movie, but thanks to the wonders of technology I watched the second half first. Which was helpful in a way, as I got to see what the characters turned into before they started down the road of terrorism. I think my opinions of the movie might be coloured by my background, but I saw no heroism or ideals in the characters from the RAF 1st generation. I saw simply people finding excuses for violence and rebelling against authority purely for the thrill of being part of a movement and being able to orchestrate violence. There ideals seemed token gestures, and one could almost see them as simply a symptom of Germany's self-hate after the war. I think that violent resistance in this kind of situation was not helpful and was more an outlet for the psychological vanity of the protagonists, once one is acting collectively outside the law the lines that are drawn seem to get muggier and muggier. One could try and justify violence by the IRA in the decades of the troubles (and indeed the recent upsurge in dissident terrorism) but the problem is that when you use violence to show your opposition to oppression, you become the same as the oppressor i.e. an author of violence and of terror. The situation then descends to tit for tat, and the "action" they talk about, even if it is successful can never result in a stable political regime, because although the terrorists presume to speak in the name of the "people", they are in fact speaking in the name of their own psychological projection of the people i.e. whatever they think justice is, is what they will insist on until the end, which results in a very narrow-minded and single-minded conception of justice. This is a very sensitive issue obviously as it depends of you r definition of terrorism, The French Resistance could equally be regarded as terrorism by the Nazi State. And as to alternatives to violence, there is collaboration, withdrawal or peaceful resistance. Collaboration does not have to be a completely negative term either, it is essentially the democratic process, talking through this kind of forum enables both sides to understand each other better, and focus on common goals and differences. Ghandi's concept of ahimsa is the only form of resistance that to me enables one to speak with the confidence of justice behind one. Only in this form of resistance is there no dialectical identification with the oppressor's language of violence.

    Anyway - didn't mean to turn this into a lecture, but I thought the film portrayed the characters in quite a negative way, even the first generation who supposedly adhered to ideals.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Well, to be honest the first half was brilliant and it sort of deteriorated in the latter half which might have been intended because that is precisely what happened to the movement in real life. So while I loved the movie in the beginning it did start veering on shiite later on and like I said just turned into violence and desperation, sadly. Overall, I still thought the movie was great.

    I also thought they started out as idealistic youth fighting for what they believed in because they thought just writing and picketing got them nowhere, which part of me can sympathize with even though I believe in nonviolent measures to change.

    It saddens me that you saw the movie out of chronological order! You must watch the film in its entirety starting from the beginning if you get the chance. It's a very long movie though (2.5 hrs) so find a time in the weekend when you can devote the whole block of time to it.

    Oh and don't get me wrong, I never called the "revolutionaries." I always referred to them as "terrorists" because I was never deluded about their actions. I just thought Gudrun did have strong personal ethics and political notions and I respected that she was willing to risk everything to realize them. On the other hand, Ulricke decided to bomb the Springer workplace endangering innocent workers, which Gudrun and Andreas never approved of. As you saw, those outside of jail the "2nd and 3rd generation" of RAF didn't seem to care about the ideals of protecting the workers at all.