Bye, bye ‘Meinhof’
The past few weeks, we’ve been treated to another round of Woodstock nostalgia, a slack coming of age drama about that concert, and a new season of “Mad Men” rife with foreboding about Sixties upheaval. What better antidote than a movie about the darker consequences of that rebellious period?
“The Baader Meinhof Complex” chronicles the increasingly violent exploits of a group of German extremists in the Sixties and Seventies. It’s mesmerizing, and appalling, up to a point. Then the violence all starts to blur together.
Mostly, however, the movie is a timely reminder how parochial our view of the period tends to be. The same shots are played over and over: Woodstock. Altamont. Martin Luther King Jr. assassination. RFK assassination. Watts. Kent State. Never mind the turmoil in Europe or elsewhere. “Baader Meinhof” takes a more global approach: Germans criticize America, and the treatment of women in Iran from the start.
The movie quickly establishes Ulrike Meinhof as a leftist journalist with a possibly shaky marriage before shifting to a shocking scene of violence at a student protest: Iranians attack them as police watch. From there the movie tracks Meinhof’s increasing radicalization, as she falls in with the Red Army Faction. Goaded by charismatic Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensellin, she at becomes more deeply involved, at first balancing her responsibilities of motherhood.
This tension, deftly conveyed by Martina Gedeck, is the most interesting conflict in the movie. When it ceases to be an issue, the movie suffers for it. And when various ringleaders get arrested, the movie suffers further. Secondary character take over the action while RAF leaders carp and implode in jail; the mayhem loses its punch.
These are tough narrative obstacles. If Americans were as familiar with this group as they are, say, with the Symbionese Liberation Army, Black Panthers or Manson Family, the movie might have better been able to surmount them. But most of us aren’t.
No matter. The movie, nominated for an Academy Award earlier this year, is still illuminating and well-timed in its American release, reminding us that Americans had no corner on the market for rebellion in the Sixties. Then, as now, our actions have consequences around the globe.
Bruno Ganz, so identified as Hitler in “Downfall” thanks to all those viral parody vids, serves up words to live by: A police chief trying to stop the RAF in its tracks, he stresses the need to address that conditions that allow the rebellion to exist rather than mindlessly crack down on it.