Saturday, November 29, 2008

Terror... in 150 Minutes

The Baader Meinhof Complex
Directed by Uli Edel
Starring: Martina Gedeck, Moritz Bleibtreu, Johanna Wokalek, Jan Josef Liefers
Grade: B-

The word "terrorism" injects fear into hearts and minds the world over, but "terrorism", contrary to what we're told, is a complex, deep, and really quite vague term. Uli Edel understands this, and at times dares to glorify it as a daring, exciting venture that acts as a challenge to the dominant oppressive social rule. He does this by exposing us to this straight away, and in more ways than one. The film opens on a nudist beach, cocks aloft (OK, not quite) and tits ablaze; exposure at its most natural and reputatively radical. That Edel endeavours (and seems to enjoy) waving this radicalism with the punch of patriotist flag-happiness is to an extent forgivable, and in fact allows the first half of the film to flourish.

Edel makes a dense subject magnetic and energetic, and the editing in this film often feels so vehicular and mammoth, Malick-style epic but within such a confined political study, and often confined setting. I loved the starkness of the film's pallette, which you can guage from looking at its poster, and significantly Edel guides the look and feel of the film without drawing attention to quite how radical he's being visually; often as radical as the politics Baader Meinhof is so keen to illustrate.

At 150 minutes though, you really have to wonder if this generous running time achieves a patient portrayal or lingers and drags like heavy machinery. I'm willing to concede that it's horses for courses on that point but, for me, the last hour was a slow one, unaided by a shift in tone towards the end that becomes a lot more resigned, both in terms of its characters and what fate will befall them and the realisation that their politics is becoming a lot less coherent. The treatment of the characters is also problematic. Their individuality gains importance in the film's final act but throughout The Baader-Meinhof group are depicted as just that: a group. The one character it does treat individually, Ulrike Meinhof (Gedeck), makes such a dramatic shift from working mother to gargantuan rebel that you just wish that there had been more about the characters (their background, social status, personality) to speculate on where this form of activism comes from, and the people that are drawn into it. Lord knows, there's time to do this, but there's an annoying reluctance to let us into the frey that mirrors the rigid unwillingness of society to acknowledge the roots of such a 'leftist' activist organisation.

I'll end with a likeness. Olivier Dahan's La Vie En Rose had the over-eagerness of a virile, horny teenager, itching to please, passionate, involved. The Baader Meinhof Complex familiarly rides a plaintive coaster, sticking to what it knows best but containing itself visually and thematically. There's wild abandon there; and one wishes that it shows as much fearlessness in its exploration of character as it does with its politics, but this all lurks beneath a sinister desire. If it was to be put in the context of the socialist radar Baader and Meinhof were undoubtedly a part of, this film is like the beginning of reform. Occasionally uncertain, but with penetrative direction and the very best of intentions.

1 comment:

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