2008 Running time: 150 Certificate: 18 Rating: 4

Synopsis

Director Uli Edel dramatises the shocking rise of Germany's murderous Baader Meinhof gang in the 1970s. The radicalised children of the Nazi generation led by Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu), Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck) and Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek) are fighting a violent war against what they perceive as the new face of fascism and American imperialism. Opposing them is the canny head of the German police force, Horst Herold (Downfall's Bruno Ganz). A stunning achievement that unsensationally lifts the lid on a ruthless revolutionary movement that also happened to be the ultimate in terrorist chic...

Director

  • Uli Edel

Cast

  • Martina Gedeck

  • Moritz Bleibtreu

  • Johanna Wokalek

  • Bruno Ganz

Review

The Porsche-driving wunderkind of the Baader-Meinhof gang blended a deadly revolutionary fervour with a terrorist chic that lent them - at one time - the support of one in four Germans.

Mein Gott..they even had their own logo - a Heckler & Koch MP5 machine gun set against the background of a red star.

Not for them the dour earnestness of IRA men in penny collars planning nailbomb attacks on drinkers or solemn Islamic fundamentalists plotting the path of an airliner into an American skyscraper.

Glamorous, good-looking and lethally motivated, the Baader-Meinhof gang (who actually preferred to be known by the acronym RAF - Red Army Faction) were born out of the post-Nazi generation that feared a return to fascism.

The right-of-centre Seventies political climate - Vietnam, Bonn's hospitality to the despised Shah of Iran and the presence of ex-Nazis in the West German political machine - convinced them that they had to act.

Andreas Baader (Bleibtrau), a petty criminal with a liking for fast cars, was joined by his blonde lover Gudrunn Ensslin (Wokalek) in the firebombing of a Frankfurt department store after which they went to ground.

Emerging the following year - 1970 - they met up with Ulrike Meinhof (Gedeck), a striking-looking left-wing militant and journalist, who helped free Baader after his arrest by German police for the second time. The RAF took wing.

Director Uli Edel (Last Exit To Brooklyn) and scriptwriter/producer Bernd Eichinger (Downfall) have forged a gripping chronicle of a terrorist group that genuinely chimed with the zeitgeist of German youth with their insistence on "legitimate targets".

The RAF - a mainly Marxist-Leninist outfit - trained with Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine guerrillas on the West Bank and Gaza, an alliance which remained until the botched hijack of a Lufthansa flight in 1977.

Early victims included police officers (in a bank raid to raise funds and an armed assault on a police station) or American military personnel (in a bomb attack on a US barracks in Frankfurt Am Main).

However, the bloody carnage at the offices of publishing mogul Axel Springer, a reactionary whose Bild newspaper had scathingly criticised student radicalism, was viewed in some quarters as contrary to the RAF's policy of avoiding civilian casualties.

Over the film's 150 minutes, Edel and Eichinger deftly relate how the RAF transformed itself from ideologically driven avenger to a ruthless terrorist organisation that spread its lethal net to include innocent civilians culminating in the bloody "German Autumn" of 1977.

The dialogue is based on original documents and the smuggled messages of the main RAF protagonists Baader, Meinhof and Enslinn following their incarceration and eventual suicides.

It's an impressive achievement lent extra weight by masterful performances from Bleibtrau, Gedeck and Wokalek as the conflicted terrorists who became psychologically shredded by the unstoppable force the RAF had become.

By the end they were no longer glamorous, their youthful spirit crushed by a controversial death toll, seismic ideological splits and the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. The RAF had gone into tailspin.

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