The Baader Meinhof Complex (German: Der Baader Meinhof Komplex) is a 2008 German film by Uli Edel. Written and produced by Bernd Eichinger, it stars Moritz Bleibtreu, Martina Gedeck, and Johanna Wokalek. The film is based on the 1985 German best selling non-fiction book of the same name by Stefan Aust. It retells the story of the early years of the West German violent far-left militant group the Rote Armee Fraktion (Red Army Faction, or RAF).
In 1967, the Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, visits West Berlin to attend a performance at the Deutsche Oper. Angered at the Shah's repressive policies in governing Iran, a number of young Germans show up to protest his appearance. The German police and the Shah's forces attack the German protesters and one of them, Benno Ohnesorg, is shot and killed without provocation by Karl-Heinz Kurras.
The Ohnesorg murder outrages many Germans, including left wing journalist Ulrike Meinhof, who had earlier written articles critical of the Shah. Inspired by Meinhof's outspoken criticism of the government, Gudrun Ensslin leaves her common law husband and child. Together with her new lover, Andreas Baader, and two others she carries out a fire bombing of a department storein Frankfurt am Main. The group is caught and put on trial where they are represented by attorney Horst Mahler, who shares their political beliefs. Ulrike Meinhof covers the trial and is impressed by the group's dedication to revolutionary principles as well as the change which they have brought about within their own lives. Meinhof secures an interview with Ensslin in prison, where the two strike up a friendship.
Meinhof discovers her husband having an affair and leaves with her two children to live with her friend Peter Homann. Meanwhile, Ensslin and Baader have been released pending an appeal and continue to live a bohemian lifestyle while attracting the loyalty of various young people including Astrid Proll, and Peter-Jurgen Boock. After spending some time abroad, Baader, Ensslin and Proll return to Germany at the urging of Horst Mahler. They begin to live with Ulrike Meinhof, who has also taken in a young runaway, Peggy Schoenau. Meinhof has become increasingly disillusioned by her inability to achieve change through her journalism and is looking to take more direct action. Her chance comes when Baader is arrested at a traffic stop. Using her journalism connections, Meinhof is able to arrange for Baader to be interviewed off prison grounds, where Ensslin and the others manage to rescue him. Wanted by the law, the group flees Germany.
After leaving Meinhof's children with sympathizers in Sicily, the group travels to Jordan where they are to receive training in a Fatah training camp, but the rebellious nature of the Germans soon annoys their Palestinian hosts. Homann leaves the group after a falling out and learns that they intend to send Meinhof's children to a Palestinian camp from which they will never return. Instead he informs Meinhof's associate Stefan Aust who returns the children to their father.
Returning to Germany, the group, now styling itself the Red Army Faction, engages in a series of bank robberies and draws increasing attention from the police. One of their number, Petra Schelm, runs a police roadblock and is killed in a shoot-out with the police. This action only angers the RAF and leads to a campaign of bomb attacks directed at German authorities as well as American military personnel based in West Germany. As their notoriety grows and police attention intensifies, more and more members of the group are captured. Baader and Holger Meins are captured after a shoot-out with police. Ensslin becomes increasingly paranoid and is captured trying to change her clothes in a store after a clerk notices her gun. Meinhof is soon captured as well, meaning that virtually all of the "first generation" of RAF members are now in prison.
Initially put in solitary confinement in separate prisons, the RAF members engage in a hunger strike which ultimately results in Holger Meins' death. The RAF consider this to be murder since the prison authorities withheld medical treatment from the critically ill Meins. The authorities then move Baader, Ensslin, Meinhof, and Jan-Carl Raspe to the same quarters inStammheim Prison. There, they work on their case as their physical and mental states deteriorate.
In 1975, a group of "second generation" RAF members seizes control of the West German embassy in Sweden. The siege ends with a series of explosions, which kill several of the RAF members and injure the hostages. RAF member Siegfried Hausner survives the blast but is critically wounded. Against medical advice he is flown back to Germany to be treated in a prison hospital, where he dies. The imprisoned RAF members are appalled by the poor execution of the Sweden operation and this contributes to their internal dissension. In particular, Ulrike Meinhof has fallen out with the other members over both her increasing depression and recriminations about the group's tactics, in particular the 1972 bombing of the Axel Springer AGpublishing company, which injured mostly workers and, Ensslin feels, alienated them from common Germans. Eventually, her increasing depression leads Meinhof to commit suicide by hanging herself in her cell. The RAF refuse to believe that this was actually a suicide and assert that it was an extrajudicial execution. After Meinhof's death, Baader, Ensslin, and Raspe are able to get other members of their group transferred into their wing. Of particular concern to the authorities is Brigitte Mohnhaupt, whose prison term will be ending shortly and who the authorities suspect will be used to carry orders to free RAF members.
Upon her release, Mohnhaupt hooks up with a group run by Peter-Jurgen Boock. Mohnhaupt informs Boock that the leadership has forbidden any more attacks on civilians and also enlists Boock's help to smuggle weapons into Stammheim, implying that the imprisoned members may choose to commit suicide, a fact that she wants kept hidden from the other RAF members. In retaliation for what they regard as the murders of Meins, Hausner, and Meinhof, they assassinate federal prosecutor Siegfried Buback. Mohnhaupt, along with Christian Klar and Susanne Albrecht, also attempt to kidnap Jurgen Ponto, the president of Dresdner Bank and a family friend of Albrecht's, at his home, but when Ponto fights back he is shot and killed. Albrecht is horrified by the murder but is forced to sign a statement justifying Ponto's death. In response to the murders of Buback and Ponto, the authorities force the imprisoned RAF members back into solitary confinement.
The imprisoned members send a message to their free comrades that they fear they may be murdered by their jailers. Boock and Mohnhaupt's group then kidnaps industrialist Hanns-Martin Schleyer, killing four members of his security detail in the process. They demand the release of the imprisoned RAF members in exchange for Schleyer. When the German authorities are slow in meeting their demands they enlist the PLO to hijack Lufthansa Flight 181. The hijacking ends with the hostages rescued and the hijackers captured. Despairing of ever being released, Baader and Raspe shoot themselves with guns which have been smuggled into the prison, Ensslin hangs herself in her cell, and Irmgard Möller tries to take her own life by stabbing herself four times in the chest. Horrified by the suicides, the free RAF members execute Schleyer.
- Moritz Bleibtreu as Andreas Baader
- Martina Gedeck as Ulrike Meinhof
- Johanna Wokalek as Gudrun Ensslin
- Nadja Uhl as Brigitte Mohnhaupt
- Simon Licht as Horst Mahler
- Alexandra Maria Lara as Petra Schelm
- Susanne Bormann as Peggy Schoenau
- Bruno Ganz as Horst Herold
- Hans Werner Meyer as Klaus Rainer Röhl
- Stipe Erceg as Holger Meins
- Jan Josef Liefers as Peter Homann
- Andreas Tobias as Manfred Grashof
- Hannah Herzsprung as Susanne Albrecht
- Vinzenz Kiefer as Peter-Jürgen Boock
- Daniel Lommatzsch as Christian Klar
- Niels-Bruno Schmidt as Jan-Carl Raspe
- Katharina Wackernagel as Astrid Proll
- Annika Kuhl as Irmgard Möller
- Sandra Borgmann as Ruth
- Sebastian Blomberg as Rudi Dutschke
- Tom Schilling as Josef Bachmann
The film began production in August 2007 with filming at several locations including Berlin, Munich, Stammheim Prison, Rome and Morocco. The film was subsidized by several film financing boards to the sum of EUR 6.5 million.Fred Kaplan, The New York Times.
The film premiered on 15 September 2008, in Munich and was commercially released in Germany on 25 September 2008. The film was chosen as Germany's official submission to the 81st Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film.
Michael Buback, the son of former chief federal prosecutor Siegfried Buback, who was assassinated by the RAF in 1977, expressed doubts concerning whether the film seriously attempts to present the historical truth, although he had not seen the movie when he expressed this concern. He subsequently amended this statement, but pointed out that the film concentrates almost exclusively on portraying the perpetrators, which carries with it the danger that the viewer will identify too strongly with the protagonists.
Protesting against the historically "distorted" and "almost completely false" depiction of the RAF's assassination of leading German banker Jürgen Ponto, Ignes Ponto, his widow and witness, returned her Federal Cross of Merit, since she saw the German government, which co-produced the film through various film financing funds, as jointly responsible for the "public humiliations" suffered by her and her family. Representing the family, her daughter Corinna Ponto called the film's violation of their privacy "wrong" and "particularly perfidious".
“Aust’s film has been criticized in Germany and Israel for making terrorist thuggery too glamorous. But in order to capture Baader-Meinhof accurately, the film needs to convey its appeal at the time. From mental patients to left-wing ideologues, from rebellious teens to sexually frustrated professionals, the gang’s members captivated many Germans with derring-do and self-conscious theatricality.”
— Fred SeigelCity Journal, September 18, 2009
Jörg Schleyer, the son of the assassinated manager and then president of the Confederation of German Employers' Associations, Hanns Martin Schleyer, states, however, that the movie was a great film which finally portrayed the RAF as what it actually was, "a merciless, ruthless gang of murderers". Commenting on the blatant depiction of violence he said, "Only a movie like this can show young people how brutal and bloodthirsty the RAF's actions were at that time."
Hollywood Reporter gave the film a favourable review, praising the acting and storytelling, but also noting a lack of character development in certain parts. A mixed review with similar criticism was published in Variety. Fionnuala Halligan of Screen International praised the film's excellent production values as well as the efficient and crisp translation of a fascinating topic to film, but felt that the plot flatlines emotionally and does not hold much dramatic suspense for younger and non-European audiences unfamiliar with the film's historical events.
Christopher Hitchens wrote a very favorable review for Vanity Fair. He appreciated the film's attempt to strike against conventional Hollywood stereotypes of revolutionaries by making the connection between urban warfare and criminality explicit. By slowly erasing the boundaries, the film revealed the "uneasy relationship between sexuality and cruelty, and between casual or cynical attitudes to both", as well as the tendency of the terrorists to offer their support and allegiance to only the most extreme factions of the revolutionary underground. Hitchens describes the RAF as "a form of psychosis" which swept through all of the post-Axis countries following the war, all of which Hitchens claims had similar leftist terrorist groups. "The propaganda of the terrorists" [...] showed an almost neurotic need to “resist authority” in a way that their parents’ generation had so terribly failed to do." Finally, he praises the film's depiction of an escalating cycle of violence and paranoia in "which mania feeds upon itself and becomes hysterical."
Film and Red Army Faction scholar Christina Gerhardt wrote a critical review for Film Quarterly. Arguing that its nonstop action failed to engage the historical and political events depicted, she wrote "During its 150 minutes, the film achieves action-film momentum—bombs exploding, bullets spraying, and glass shattering—and this inevitably comes at the expense of quasi journalistic exposé or historical excavation."
The American trailer is narrated by actor Will Lyman, a voice commonly associated with serious documentary films.
The Filmbewertungsstelle Wiesbaden, Germany's national agency which evaluates movies on their artistic, documentary and historical significance, gave the movie the rating "especially valuable". In their explanatory statement the committee says: "the film tries to do justice to the terrorists as well as to the representatives of the German state by describing both sides with an equally objective distance." The committee asserts: "German history as a big movie production: impressive, authentic, political, tantalizing".
The German TV channel ARD aired the film split in two parts with new footage added to each part. This extended version was later released in Germany on DVD as well. The first part adds ten minutes and 41 seconds of new footage, the second part 3 minutes and 41 seconds.