J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

2009’s Most Offensive Film: Baader Meinhof Complex

To be fair, director Uli Edel knows how to stage a riot on film. Unfortunately, he did so in crafting what can only be described as Fascist Terrorism porn. Though Edel’s Baader Meinhof Complex received plenty of accolades, including a 2008 Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, it essentially glories the anti-American, anti-Semitic Baader Meinhof-Red Army Faction terrorist groups and should be ignored on DVD.

The protagonists of BMC are the founders of the terrorist group, whom the film suggests were well intentioned leftists who became radicalized after the German police attacked their protest against the Shah of Iran. The antagonists are the largely faceless policemen and corpulent capitalists who fall victim to their cold-blooded attacks. The one exception is Horst Herald, the chief of the Federal Police, who urges the government to recognize the validity of some of the terrorists’ demands, most notably Israel’s refusal to give away land to its sworn enemies.

You know a German film is in problematic territory when it blames the Jews for forcing German extremists to commit murder, but that is the suggestion BMC leaves hanging in the air. In fact, the eerie similarity between the Red Army’s raised fists and the National Socialists’ Sieg Heil salute is a fitting irony apparently as lost on the filmmakers as it was on the terrorists. Or perhaps not. Terror’s Advocate, Barbet Schroeder’s documentary profile of Jacques Vergès, who represented just about every international terrorist organization, thoroughly connects the dots between the Baader Meinhof-Red Army terrorists, the Palestinians, and Francois Genoud, a wealthy Swiss Nazi, all of whom seemed to share a general world view as well as Vergès’s services.

Make no mistake, Edel blatantly stacks the deck on behalf of the terrorist protagonists. Every act of alleged police brutality inflicted upon them is portrayed in explicit detail. However, each horrendous act committed by the leftist terrorists and their Palestinian allies, like the horrific murders of the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics or the 1977 Lufthansa hijacking, happens safely off-camera, so the audience will not get worked up over them.

While BMC is technically accomplished, it lacks soul, much like its subjects. Its leads have a stentorian stiffness appropriate to agit-prop perhaps, but not engaging in a two and a half hour film (again, the one exception is the always fascinating screen presence of Bruno Ganz as Herald). Ultimately, it is only memorable for its attempts to excuse or otherwise mitigate some of the worst crimes committed in the last century. Far from entertaining, that is just offensive.

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