Film reconstructs German terror of '70s


POSTED: Sunday, October 18, 2009

An open window. Ulrike Meinhof stares at it, fascinated. She's in a room with bleeding victims of a terrorist jailbreak; the terrorists have leapt through the window. She had secretly engineered the jailbreak, but no one knows that. Does she stay in the room, in the strictures of the petty bourgeoisie life she had built as a leftist columnist, or does she leap through the window, join the romantic revolutionaries on the run?

She jumps, and it's the beginning of the great postwar trauma in modern German society, the spasmodic political terrorism outbreaks of the 1970s that killed innocent people and made populist Robin Hoods of the so-called Baader-Meinhof Gang.

They actually called themselves the Red Army Faction, a dissolving series of terrorist brigades striking at what they perceived as endemic fascism in the West German government. It had only been a couple of decades since the end of World War II, after all, and most of the people in charge were former Nazi officials, and the kids who grew up as home-grown terrorists were raised in the war's rubble. The experience colors everything.





        Rated R

Now playing in theaters






“;The Baader Meinhof Complex”; is an extraordinary, thorough retelling of the events of the period, based on a memoir by writer Stefan Aust (who helped rescue Meinhof's children on their way to a Palestinian terrorist training camp) and poured on the screen by director Uli Edel, who maintains a strict psychological distance from the events but pumps the film with the chilly brio of a thriller. He understands that terrorists not only act because of political conviction, but because they simply get off on the sexy violence.

The movie will send you right off to Google the actual events, and it does a fabulous job of connecting the dots without slowing down. As near as I can tell, it's dead-on, not just in re-creating the events, but in deconstructing the mood of the period. It's frightening and fascinating, but more than that, it's instructive.

Writer Ulrike Meinhof was the best known of the gang, but Andreas Baader was the undisputed leader, a swaggering, psychotic action junkie. Girlfriend Gundrun Ensslin was the real zealot of the group, acting out against her clergy parents with the fury of a Joan of Arc. Indeed, one of the things about the terrorists that appealed to the German public was their passion, in an age when anomie ruled.

The movie covers roughly a decade, including their bizarre trial and mysterious fates that still have Germans debating.

Where are they now? The fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union had a real dampening effect on the leftist terrorists.

Along with “;John Rabe,”; German cinema has been mining recent, unpleasant history with great effect. An arrest was made just last month in Germany for a Red Army Faction murder that occurred more than 30 years ago.