The Baader Meinhof Complex

The Baader Meinhof Complex

DVD Rating: ****

Reviewed by: Chris

Read Jeff Robson's film review of The Baader Meinhof Complex

Our tendency is to pass judgement on the subject matter of films. We have an innate disposition to rush to moral judgement on anything and everything. To show which ‘side’ we’re on. I think it’s particularly tempting when there are heated feelings on both – or many – sides. Having no ‘opinion’ can equate to having no any friends in any corner. Once committed, a million and one ‘reasons’ will then spring up to support one’s view. Reasons are like that. Ask a man why he likes his new car. Or ask a woman, why she needs yet another pair of shoes. We are slaves to emotion.

If ethics involves more balanced ethical codes, or philosophical reflection and analysis, morality has no such burden. Morality, like conscience, is personal. Often shaped by individual experience and deeply-held belief. For most of us, a convenient yardstick. But sometimes it can boil over.

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“I think that the worst acts of violence throughout history have taken place under the guise of morality,” says historian Stefan Aust, upon whose book The Baader Meinhof Complex is based. “In truth, it lies at the heart of almost all violent political movement, in other countries as well, in that people with an inflated moralistic sense of their mission completely lose sight of the fact that their own actions are blatantly immoral.”

The Baader Meinhof group (or the ‘Red Army Faction’ as they called themselves) grew out of popular moral outrage over the US-Vietnam War, and other international incidents of the late Sixties. In the film, the audience is encouraged to identify with them early on, then turn against them, as did most even left-wing student and public opinion. On the one hand, it is an important piece of history. It represents Germany’s biggest challenge (and catastrophe) in post-war Europe. It is history that, as the filmmakers point out, has been swept under the carpet, and omitted from school curriculums. Therefore, although the film should not be ignored, there is a need for broader understanding than the movie alone can elicit, either due to its cinematic shortcomings or the impossibility of ascertaining every fact with complete certainty.

It’s a good reason to watch the DVD.

Extras included on the disc give us important insights into the filmmakers’ intentions, even if these couldn’t be fully realised in the motion picture. They help us glean crucial emotional truths, even where all the facts can’t be ascertained. Interviews with the director and others – who lived through the tumultuous and highly-charged times when these horrors were born – offer an honest vision that was all too imperfectly realised.

It’s a good film – well acted – and strives, I think, for a balance where hardly any balance is possible. But at nearly two and a half hours it is a long haul. Although I am not completely ignorant of the atmosphere of social uprising in which it is rooted (but which was more muted in the UK), there was too little development of the national tensions and the passions of young people of that time. It is also not so close-to-home as it will be for Germans, able to quickly place the locations and timeline, and perhaps able to relate more closely to someone who was killed in the subsequent terrorist attacks. I imagine the London Underground bombing, for instance, is less easy for a person in Sydney to share emotionally than a stranger in Brixton. For all these reasons, more background was needed, even if at the expense of some explosions. But that would have made it an entirely different film – and with entirely different shortcomings.

It is rare for me to recommend DVDs over the big screen, but in this case the extras make it an attractive option for any serious-minded viewers. The downside is that much of the impact of the action scenes, and even the fine detail of expressions on faces of people not in close-up, is always lost on DVD. And since you are not a captive audience, there may be the temptation to hit pause or do something else. And only the most earnest will want to watch it both at the cinema and again at home. So unless you have an extra large home cinema system, watch Baader Meinhof Complex at the cinema if you can then maybe get the DVD to watch the ‘making of’ documentaries.

At the end of the featurettes, I found I was more able to sit back and take an existentialist view of the events (and the film for that matter). If anything, I sympathised with those in government – heavily criticised – who tried to understand the motivations of the group. Understanding someone’s point of view is not the same as agreeing with them. But it requires a temporary emotional involvement. Something the actors also experienced to a much greater degree. It’s like a classroom situation where you act out (with passion and even vehemence) the positions of the conflicting parties. Out of that understanding can sometimes arise the least worst option.

Sad to think that some people in power still have difficulty, it seems, just talking to each other...

Reviewed on: 20 Apr 2009
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As protests against the West German government of the late 1960s become increasingly violent, a group of young left-wingers decide to take direct action.
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Read more The Baader Meinhof Complex disc reviews:

Jonathan Melton: DVD

Product Code: MP827DR0

Region: 2

Ratio: 16:9

Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1

Extras: History in the Making, On Uli Edel, The Score, Cast Filmographies, trailer

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