For two weeks, 20 male participants are hired to play prisoners and guards in a prison. The "prisoners" have to follow seemingly mild rules, and the "guards" are told to retain order without using physical violence.
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
As an immediate reaction to the movie, Ignes Ponto, widow of Jürgen Ponto, whose assassination is portrayed in the movie, returned her Federal Cross of Merit. She was angry that the Federal Republic of Germany has never even created a memorial for victims of the RAF, but instead helped to finance films like this one about the members of the RAF. Also, she said, she had not been warned about the graphic portrayal of Ponto's assassination when she was invited to the movie premiere and felt humiliated by the producers for making her sit through this without a warning. About a month later, she filed a lawsuit against the producers, who claimed that every scene is historically accurate, because the assassination of her husband, which she had to witness from the next room, was not portrayed as it happened. She demands the scene of the murder of her husband be cut from the movie. The filmmakers claim that they had tried to contact her during production to get the scene right but she had no desire to cooperate. Before this movie, there had been no portrayal of Ponto's assassination on film and she felt the staging of the movie was lurid and dishonoring to her husband. As of this writing, no decision has been reached about the lawsuit. See more »
Ulrike Meinhof's twin daughters Bettina and Regine first appear in the opening scene in 1967 when they are 9 years old. Yet 3 years later when living in Sicily and rescued by Stefan Aust, they haven't aged at all. See more »
It's not insignificant that this story reaches us at this time. Reactionary movements are all around us, some linked to the events (and there are many events depicted here) in the film.
This is the opposite of Oliver Hirschbiegel's static, embalmed "Downfall," the recreation of Hitler's last days. Uli Edel takes Stefan Aust's book and infuses it with kinetic energy. It's one of the best uses of montage in recent cinema and the sound design fits in squarely with the sophisticated visuals and elaborate re-staging of the crimes of the Baader-Meinhoff gang, aka, The Red Army Faction.
I saw this film just after watching Ang Lee's "Taking Woodstock," a very different evocation of a turbulent era. Equally successful here is the recreation of a revolutionary time where everyone seemed to be fighting against something and to be fair, there was a lot to argue rightly about changing. It all came down to the methods one used, and using the guilt of post Nazi Germany, the Baader-Meinhoff gang became delusional and grandiose in their "methods" of social change. "Urban guerrilla" was the fashionable name at the time, today we call it terrorism.
The film doesn't bother to weigh whether anything legitimate was anyone's goal. It opens with a stunning set piece at a demonstration against the Shah of Iran and a riot that pits Right Wing elements against Leftists. As the violence escalates, there are several tracking shots ahead of charging mounted police on horseback that is so electrifying, I sat there wondering, "Can this film top that opening?" Well, it does.
It holds the interest of the audience through a very complex series of robberies, bombings and kidnappings. I was reminded of "The French Connection" in the use of sheer excitement to keep an audience engaged in a very elaborate political movement that terrorized Europe for nearly a decade (at least the cast of characters depicted in this film; activities of the group are still—arguably—alive).
Some have argued that the focus of the film on the crimes of the group glorify them, but no more than, say, the Barrow gang was elevated in Arthur Penn's "Bonnie and Clyde." We're given Baader and Meinhof's dialectic, but we're clearly watching psychotic/psychopathic people; and no one can deny they had a following.
It's a long film, but I think it's very efficient in the story it tells. Over two and a half hours, I can't think of any scene or crime that should have been cut. As well, the film is full of dialog and the English titles require you to miss a great deal of what's visually on the screen. I plan to see it twice as a result.
Huge rallies and set pieces are recreated. The only documentary footage that I recognized was from the Munich Olympics. Sobering in its account, there are many lessons we still need to learn from these events. I was reminded of one of Leonard Cohen's lyrics: "I've seen the future and, brother, it is murder." Let's hope these methods are in the past and not our future. We need to ensure that.
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