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Germany in the 1970s: Murderous bomb attacks, the threat of terrorism and the fear of the enemy inside are rocking the very foundations of the yet fragile German democracy. The radicalised children of the Nazi generation lead by Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof and Gudrun Ensslin are fighting a violent war against what they perceive as the new face of fascism: American imperialism supported by the German establishment, many of whom have a Nazi past. Their aim is to create a more human society but by employing inhuman means they not only spread terror and bloodshed, they also lose their own humanity. The man who understands them is also their hunter: the head of the German police force Horst Herold. And while he succeeds in his relentless pursuit of the young terrorists, he knows he's only dealing with the tip of the iceberg.Written by
Germany's official submission to the Best Foreign Language Film Category of the 81st Annual Academy Awards (2009). See more »
While making a telephone call in an adjoining room, Ignes Ponto became an eyewitness of the assassination of her husband Jürgen Ponto in their house. In the movie, she is sitting on patio in the sunshine from where she is not able to see that Jürgen Ponto is shot. See more »
If you throw a stone, it's a crime. If a thousand stones are thrown, that's political. If you set fire to a car it's a crime; if a hundred cars are set on fire that's political.
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There are plenty of previous movies about this most famous of European terrorist groups of the 1970's. J. Hoberman of The Village Voice mentions notable ones by Fassbinder, Rainer, Hauff, and Schlöndorff, points to Gerhard Richter's important 15-painting installation, and calls this presentation "by contrast...an extended footnote." If a footnote, it's extended indeed: it runs two and a half hours, and it may be one of the most elaborate series of recreations of violent political action ever put on film. Made from Der Spiegel editor Stefan Aust's book-length study, it's a very comprehensive account and and this very strength is also a flaw: because it's such a detailed survey, the film therefore also lacks clarifying focus, or depth in portraying any particular individuals or events. Not having seen any of these predecessors except part of the Richter paintings series, I use as my comparison Bellocchio's 'Good Morning, Night'/'Buongiorno, notte.' A rather surprising approach to filming the Aldo Moro kidnapping, it takes us long and deep into the kidnappers' claustrophobic world and has a haunting mood, a sense of what it's like to be trapped by suicidal commitments. It also shows better than this film how a single grand terrorist exploit could hold a whole nation in its feverish grip.
No doubt that the actors playing journalist-convert Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck), the lawless hipster revolutionary Andreas Baader (Moritz Beibtreu) and Baader's paramour Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek) have the right stuff to convey the wild conviction and psychoses of the time. These three, plus the police chief played by Bruno Ganz and a young Turk played by Vinzenz Kiefer, are the only characters who emerge vividly as personalities. Gudrun's love for Andreas is simply but deftly conveyed through all the wreckage and violence by the way she calls him "baby." Meinhof is a sympathizer whose motherhood and respectability hold her back, till she is the decoy and manipulator in an operation to spring Baader from prison, whereupon she jumps out the window with the others and becomes and outlaw. Later (perhaps because lacking full commitment?) she gradually loses her sanity during a long period when the principals are all held in solitary confinement.
Lots of stringy hair, bad clothing styles, too much lipstick and eyeliner and perpetual cigarettes add to the period flavor. One of the principals even lights up during an intense shootout with police. Ganz's wily, cool-headed police chief seems to have ideas Americans of the last decade are incapable of: he says more than once that terrorism won't end till the situations that lead to it are removed. Vietnam, the Palestinians, and a series of other injustices are presented as context, not to mention such Sixties American violence as the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and M.L. King. This is a film rich in political reference -- but without much clarification of the group's political motives or their relation to strategy. The original group begins by blowing up a department store, and robs three banks in a ten-minute period. Robberies, bombings, and kidnappings are their M.O., and decisions often just seem to flow out of firecracker Andrea Baader's macho screaming fits. When in doubt, he usually throws a chair. It's not entirely clear how devilish derring-do morphed into leadership. But what is clear is that the opposition is former Nazis or their sympathizers, and the new terrorists, committed to preventing fascism from ever returning to Germany, are the offspring of parents who were anti-Nazi all along. The group calls itself RAF, the Red Army Faction, and Chairman Mao is a guru, even if his dicta are only rarely cited.
The opening scene of the film is a jaw-droppingly complex and violent production number: a large street demonstration in which fascist supporters of the Shah of Iran face leftists. The Shah supporters begin a bloody attack on the leftists using the wood poles that held their posters, and the police join in, bashing leftists; one gets shot. Tumult and excitement continue unabated thenceforth; in the first half, there are few pauses for breath. A notable one comes when Gudrun invites a young rebel just escaped from juvie, Peter-Jürgen Boock (Vinzenz Kiefer) to strip and join her in the bath, and Baader comes in and isn't bothered. Peter-Jürgen will become a leader of the second or third generation Baader Meinhof, who arranges Arab collaboration in the Lufthansa plane hijacking to gain the leaders' release from prison, which Baader disavows because it jeopardizes innocent passengers. (This is not the first Baader Meinhof contact with Palestinian fighters; Baader's earlier ones wind up not being very friendly.) We see how it transpires that the German police declare terrorism in Germany to have been safely eliminated, only to be proved very wrong when the 1972 Munich Olympics lead to the slaughter of the Israeli team.
One question is if you can root out terrorism. Another is whether terrorism accomplishes any positive goal. The film doesn't allow us much time to think about any of this. What it does do, and does with obvious accomplishment and at considerable expense, is provide vivid images of this violent segment of the period. And it lets viewers judge for themselves, neither moralizing nor sympathizing.
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