The second night on my own turned out more interesting than the first. Once I figured out that the young cub I ran into last weekend was "giving me the basket" (wie man auf deutsch zu sagen pflegt), I tried to set something up with cuore_felice34
, who similarly flaked. Only after I decided, fuck 'em all, I was taking myself out to Massouleh
with The Economist
as my dining partner did I think to call the every dependable welcomerain
. She lives just around the corner for there, so I thought I might drop in for a chat; she had plans but offered her husband, and he responded to my suggestion with, "Where are you going for dinner? Give me half an hour and I'll meet you there." It was a lovely meal, a sincerely why-do-we-do-this-more-often experience, but not a long one, so when I got home I thought I've got just enough time to watch the new NetFlik and do some tidying up before monshu gets home
. And I would've, too, if I hadn't broken at the 1:45 mark for a little tea and gossip.
The movie was Der Baader-Meinhof Komplex
, a film about the early days of a notorious German left-wing terror group, the Rote Armee Fraktion. I don't remember hearing about them before my arrival in Germany in 1990. They were still very active then, having assassinated the chairman of Deutsche Bank the previous year, and before I returned to the States they shot to death the head of the Treuhandanstalt (a government agency responsible for privatising the assets of the GDR). Nevertheless, I recall a curious sense of culture shock upon first seeing a wanted poster listing known members. After all, I came from country where organised political terror of this sort had been dead for a decade already. Bombings and shootings were the work of crazed loners, not armed revolutionary groups.
So I had a great deal to learn about the group and the history of the radical left in Germany in general. At the time, I was more interested in current events than recent history (after all, my country had just initiated a war in a Middle Eastern country) and didn't pursue this, so the movie was an excellent primer on an important period of German history. I had never even encountered the term "Deutscher Herbst" ("German Autumn") until reading the Wikipedia article
just now. I certainly didn't know that the tiny band of leftists kidnapping bankers had once convinced the PFLP to hijack a plane for them.
It can be tough in films like these to strike the right balance of sympathy with the protagonists. Too little and you're left with a bunch of psychopaths offing people for no reason; too much and you're glorifying cold-blooded murder. I think Eichinger handles this well, making it clear how they caught the imagination of a generation (one of the characters quotes an Allensbach poll that showed one in four Germans under 40 expressing sympathy for the group and one in ten willing to shelter a member) while at the same time presenting the cynicalness of their manipulation of public opinion. The only time he seems to err too far on the side of the terrorists is in the elegiac final sequence.
Baader in particular comes off here as far more thoughtful and mature than he has throughout the film (where he is depicted as the "charismatic, spoiled psychopath" described in the source text). But at least the deaths are shown as unambiguously self-inflicted, two-and-a-half decades of lefty conspiracy theory to the contrary. Overall, Lola rennt
's Bleibtreu does a particularly fine job of illustrating how a violent misogynist could attract so many women to the cause. (The gender parity among first-generation members of the organisation was striking to me, and in particular how many women are shown planning and leading attacks.) And learning that Ulrike Meinhof was a popular journalist who had appeared on television before going underground really clarifies for me the popular appeal of the group at the time.
This also makes her a handy identification figure early in the film. It was instructive watching Baader and his partner Ensslin bully her into laying down the pen for the sword, but what I missed was insight into how the two of them arrived at their extreme views. Later, focus shifts to the farsighted director of the Bundeskriminalamt
, who apparently completely reformed the German police force making it a model for other states to follow. (It took me more than half the film to be sure that he was played by one of my favourite German actors, Bruno Ganz, and then only because his accent and delivery resembled that which he employed as Hitler in Untergang
; I'm not sure whether to credit a fantastic makeup job or the sad fact that advanced age has taken more of a toll on his features than I suspected.)
It's also inevitable that a film this ambitious would leave loose ends. In particular, I was confused by the fate of Meinhof's twin daughters, who were hidden in Sicily when the founding members of the RAF fled to a PFLP training camp in Jordan. Peter Homann is shown leaving the camp to save them, but it's not him who arrives in Italy to take them back to Germany. (In fact, the character on screen must be Stefan Aust, a colleague of Meinhof's and author of the book upon which the movie is based, who cooperated with Homann to return the children to their father, a colleague of both Meinhof and Aust.) Another armed revolutionary group, the Tupamaros
, are referenced but their relationship to the RAF is never made clear. (Come to think of it, it's not even clear whether the group in question is the one based in Berlin, notorious for an attempted bombing of the Jewish Community Centre there [on Kristallnacht, no less!] or another of the same name in Munich, to which key second-generation RAF leader Brigitte Mohnhaupt belonged.)
Of course, all those loose ends make for a fascinating game of Wikipedia wandering. It's heartening to discover that one of Meinhof's daughters is a successful journalist (the one, in fact, who broke the notorious file photo of Joschka Fischer
beating a cop) and heart-rending to learn that, despite his extraordinary success, Herold is forced to live in a former border patrol base and bear the costs of his own protection against assassination by RAF sympathisers. (He calls himself "the last prisoner of the RAF".)