Red or dead
Kaleem Aftab meets the producer and stars of The Baader-Meinhof Complex to discuss the challenges of making political films like this in this ‘Age of Terror’
Bernd Eichinger is best known internationally as the writer and producer of Downfall and after having forced the German public to look back at their relationship with Hitler he has now turned his attention to the Red Army Faction (RAF). Whether these 1970s urban guerrillas were terrorists, freedom fighters or just murderous fashionistas remains a contentious issue in his homeland. But is it possible to form a detached, informed opinion in a world where politicians are constantly informing us that we live in the ‘Age of Terror’?
Eichinger scoffs at the suggestion that 9/11 has changed history’s perspective of the RAF: ‘The facts are the same and do not change because of 9/11. I did not do this movie because we live in times of terror. I was interested in my own traumatic past because we were the first generation after the Nazis. I don’t believe the RAF would have been possible without the Nazis.’
So in his mind there’s a direct link between Downfall, his own past and his latest film The Baader-Meinhof Complex. He adds: ‘In 1967/68, I was studying film in Munich and consequently I was there when it all happened. We all had a great time during the student movement and this film was something I was always going to do at some time.’ His effort to remain truthful and non-judgemental has led him to write what he describes as ‘shredded cinema’ where all the facts have been digested and left for the audience to put the pieces together in whatever way fits best. In the terrorism vs freedom fighters debate, he believes subjectivity is key.
The buzz for the movie started with news that it was to be the most expensive movie ever produced in Germany. Then the cast list started to read like a Who’s Who of contemporary German cinema. At its heart is the battle between the mind of Ulrike Meinhof and the brawn of Andreas Baader. Reuniting after appearing together in Atomised are Martina Gedeck and Mortiz Bleibtreu (pictured). They both found their newest collaboration a challenge. Gedeck says: ‘There’s so much secrecy about Meinhof, so much mystery. I didn’t really know much about her. I found her obsession with politics and justice and the idea of bringing about a collective conscience a very romantic ideal. She was very daring but on the other hand, very soft and low key. But I was not brought up politically and when I was a child in Berlin my mother kept me away from the huge demonstrations.’
While Gedeck’s research proved fruitful, Bleibtreu found himself increasingly frustrated. ‘What’s really fascinating about the guy is that everyone has a strong image and seems to know this guy so well. Yet if you start doing research you get nothing. It’s like this guy was a myth. Everyone talks about him being charismatic and good looking but take a look, he’s not so good looking, and there is not much footage to say he’s charismatic so I had to ask myself – “where does this glamour aspect of this character come from?”’ It’s a question that has confounded state governments, as well as artists.
The Baader-Meinhof Complex is on selected release from Fri 14 Nov. See review.