Bang Blam Boom

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.

9 thoughts on “Bang Blam Boom

  1. What a strange and mostly terrible career Edel has had:
    http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0248942/
    He was the guy who directed Body of Evidence! Though, his work on Homocide: Life on the Streets partly makes up for that flop.
    All that said, this film sounds interesting…sounds like something I’d be interested in checking out…

  2. “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”
    Very astute observation Jeff, but finish the point! We now live in a society that has finally become narcotized to the point of no return… the rich elite who run the world are using the tendrils of technology and pharmaceuticals to keep people from seeing the bigger picture, and maybe doing something about it. After all, it’s kinda hard to concentrate on blowing up some buildings when all you wanna do is toy around with your iPhone.
    On a side note, I dated a girl a couple of years ago who fancied herself the next generation of The Weathermen… I was ready to start blowing stuff up with her but then it turned out she was a drug addict with paranoid-schizophrenic disorder and wasn’t really serious. Oh well.

  3. Body of Evidence was terrible, but it reeked of studio butchery. You can’t always blame a director–especially a foreign director–for making a english-language flop when they do their first english-language film. Look at Matthew Kassovitz’s Bablyon AD–he’s a talented filmmaker and that movie was so bad he publicly disavowed it.

  4. Vice: “the rich elite who run the world are using the tendrils of technology and pharmaceuticals to keep people from seeing the bigger picture, and maybe doing something about it. After all, it’s kinda hard to concentrate on blowing up some buildings when all you wanna do is toy around with your iPhone.”
    Or maybe they realized that people who blow up buildings tend to hide behind their ideologies, so they don’t have to take responsibility for their actions, while people who create and sell products like iPhones
    can relate to them on a personal level.

  5. I wanted to add that people who create and sell products like iPhones can relate to people who buy them on a personal level, since they actually gives said consumers greater ways to express themselves than a vanity terrorist group like the Trench Coat Mafia or Symbionese Liberation Organization.

  6. I was at the Aero theater too. and I have to disagree. I came out thinking it will definitely get a nomination for best foreign language film. why? First of all, the movie looks great. Hollywood big budget movie great. Secondly, the pacing never slacks. In all the over two hours of its meandering plot that never offers any background or rationale for us to understand the rationale behind the extreme actions of the RAF, it is never boring. What did Mark Olsen call it? Radical chic. The critics in Germany are calling , the history channel version if Hollywood owned the history channel. All kiss kiss bang bang. But overall, if you go with and its thesis that we don’t really understand why these people did what they did so we are not going to try and explain it. Those were the times etiquette and they connected with millions of young people, it does say something about idealism vs celebrity vs extremism. The US critics will pan for it. Dargis wrote one of the most stupid reviews I’ve ever read for the excellent picture Tropa de Elite, a better movie than Baader Meinhof Complex, and also its fraternal twin. Baader… also will create a lot of controversy when it opens with nasty augmented reviews. That is alos good for buzz. People will talk about it. Tropa de Elite, winner of the Golden bear, (Thank God dargis and other American critics were not on the jury. Everything must be measured against a false sense of humanism and morality that does not exist in the world. the idea that art must uplift and make you aim to be better; edification. Who sets the standard forwhat edification is?) does not look as good and does not have the pacing of Baader… but it will be interesting to see if they both get nominated, or cancel each other out.

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