What can you say about a tough-minded, hard-nosed political drama that tells the truth, doesn’t mince words or pull punches, rekindles the viral excitement of a bygone era, offers several gripping performances and leaves you with a taste of ashes in your soul?

Moritz Bleibtreu, Johanna Wokalek

This is the reality of The Baader Meinhof ComplexUli Edel‘s 149-minute drama about the famed German radical leftist group. I caught it last Friday night at the Aero along with L.A. Times guy Mark Olsen, The Envelope‘s Pete Hammond and two or three publicist pals who may be working on the film’s Academy campaign for Best Foreign Language Feature Oscar, as it was recently named as Germany’s official entry.
It’s a strong but bleak account of the impassioned but self-destructive insanity that took hold among radical lefties in the late ’60s and ’70s, and which manifested with a particular ferocity and flamboyance among the Baader-Meinhoffers. Edel’s chops are fine, the story is the story, what happened is what happened, but my God…what do you do with a history of this sort? And where in this saga is a semblance of a common cultural current? It’s not as if a willingness to kill or be killed for one’s political beliefs is something that comes up these days on Sunday mornings at Starbucks after you’ve had your morning run.
Maybe more of us should think and act in terms of life-or-death commitments. Maybe we’d be better off if more of us had the cojones to stand up and fight evil in a way that gives no quarter. But the film mainly sinks in as a revisiting of a time in which a small but dead-serious sector of the left-liberal community temporarily lost its bearings and in some cases jumped off a cliff in order to stop what they saw as a form of absolute establishment evil.

The Baader -Meinhof gang may have have had their hearts (if not their heads) in the “right” place, but what are you supposed to do with their example in the age of Barack Obama, financial meltdown, global warming, the SUV pestilence, middle-class obesity, the cultural tumor that is Beverly Hills Chihuahua and rampant plasticity and vapidity in almost every corner of the globe (especially among younger women who sit in groups of four or five in bars and cafes and laugh loudly, squealing like little piglets)?
I’m glad I saw it, I’m glad it was made, I respect and admire the contributions of everyone on the team (Edel, producer-co-writer Bernd Eichinger, exec producer Martin Moszkovicz and cast members Martina Gedeck, Moritz Bleibtreu, Johanna Wokalek, Bruno Ganz, Nadja Uhl, Jan Josef Liefers, Stipe Erceg, Niels Bruno Schmidt, Vinzenz Kiefer, Alexandra Maria Lara), and I’m glad it’s doing well commercially in Germany and elsewhere.
But I don’t think it has a prayer in hell of being nominated for Best Foreign-Language Feature. Not because it’s a bad film but because it leaves you shell-shocked and saying “what the fuck?” And because of that feeling of ashes. And because the blue-hairs are going to come out of screenings of this thing going “good Lord!”
I’m sorry to say this, but The Baader Meinhof Complex is a gripping but awfully strange and even weird story about some very extreme, go-for-broke people who didn’t know when (or how) to chill out and seemed, in the final analysis, to be more than a little in love with death. Call me a political dilletante, but as much as I admire the nerve of people willing to risk death for their political beliefs I want to live and share love and spread the word about good movies and play with my cats until I’m 97 years old.

Here‘s Mark Olsen’s reaction, which appeared yesterday in Patrick Goldstein‘s bloggy-blog “Big Picture” column (as opposed to the online remnant of the weekly print column). And here’s Boyd Van Hoeij‘s Variety review, posted on 9.25.
When and if this worthy film obtains U.S. distribution, it should be called The Baader Meinhof Gang and let it go at that. You have to think in popcorn terms when you’re thinking up a title, and popcorn munchers don’t know from complexes. This is basically a high-voltage shoot ’em up about a political-minded Barrow gang that ends in jail and suicide.