“The Baader Meinhof Complex “opens with a typical German family enjoying a holiday in a Baltic seaside resort in 1967. The mother (Martina Gedeck) is reading a glossy mag, chiding her children for staying out in the sun too long and having a brief flash of jealousy as her husband chats to a nude bather, a picture of happiness and prosperity in the economically successful but socially liberated West Germany.
But she is Ulrike Meinhof, a journalist on a left-wing paper, and on her return she pens an article protesting at the state visit of the Shah of Iran. The growing number of German counter-culture activists are incensed by the official recognition of an undemocratic despot and turn up en masse to demonstrate on his arrival in Berlin.
When they start throwing flour bombs, a pro-Iranian group in the crowd starts fighting them and the police wade in en masse. In scenes eerily reminiscent of the Nazi era, they beat anyone in sight, refuse to let the injured seek medical attention and accidentally shoot one protester dead.
The incident galvanises the extreme element of the left-wing movement and when their leader Rudi Dutschke is shot and seriously injured by a right-wing fanatic a few of his associates decide that the time has come to do more than simply protest peacefully.
Chief among them are Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu), a charismatic hothead scornful of the more intellectual members of the movement, and his girlfriend Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek), a pastors daughter who leaves behind a husband and young child to join the struggle. They begin to acquire weapons and bomb-making equipment, but are arrested after firebombing a department store.
Meinhof visits them in prison and when Ensslin is released, agrees to help her attempt to spring Baader from jail. Using her publishing connections, she arranges for Baader to be taken to a research institute under guard where gang members will overpower the police and free him while Meinhof feigns surprise. But the attempt gets out of hand, a librarian is shot and on impulse Meinhof flees with the rest of them.
The gang members leave the country, eventually ending up in a revolutionary training camp in Jordan, where their nude sunbathing and Baaders refusal to submit to anything resembling military discipline infuriates the Arab guerrilla instructors. They re-enter Germany in secret and fund their newly-christened Red Army Faction through a string of violent, high-profile bank raids.
The film works as part of the new German film aesthetic. Chunneling the paranoia of the 70s Hollywood against the modern rebuilding of South Korean Cinema, we get something new yet familiar. A deep look at a twisted past through the filter of criminal personalization. Is it for everyone? Of course, not.
But, I do recommend checking it out when it eventually arrives on Home Video. Channeling a weird underground foreign aesthetic isn’t something that’s too friendly to an American audience. But, it dares you to warm up to the material ala a white knuckled Persepolis. I’ll have to revisit the film closer to Awards Season before I pass a final judgment. Right now, I cautiously recommend it.