The film begins with the story of Ulrike Meinhof, a middle class journalist who through the responsibility felt by many descendants of the Nazi generation becomes involved in the Baader Meinhof group, an anti-imperialist terrorist cell which proceeds to take its place as one of the most violent terrorist organisations of the ‘70s. Their aim, at least at one point when they seem to actually have an aim, is to bring the reality of war in Vietnam to those who started it, bombing military barracks and kidnapping politicians in West Berlin. They rally against capitalism, bombing department stores while Meinhof writes lots of hardhitting journalistic soundbites such as ‘The man in uniform is a pig’. At one point Baader, finally seems to express the philosophy behind his violent campaign: between his arrogant incendiary babble, he tells the police that ‘talk without action is wrong’. The Red Army Faction have by then gone too far; by the end of the film they have lost their (originally fairly shaky) direction and beliefs in a mess of blood and violence. What emerges as the reason for their downfall emerges also as the reason the film itself falls down; they are both, in fact, all action and no talk.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of talking. A lot. I can tell you three hours of reading German subtitles in the seventh subterranean screen of the Odeon empire is a pretty harrowing experience, even without all the shooting and bombing. The trouble is that at the end, all this talk seems to be saying exactly nothing.
There are a few points at which the film finally catches its breath and the actors are allowed to shine but the film soon crashes through the psychological possibilities of these moments, and the fast paced action resumes. What follows is a series of bloody gun wounds, violent arguments, brutal kidnappings and merciless bombings, interspersed with shots of female terrorists’ miniskirted thighs and some free spirited 70’s nudity for good measure.
The trouble is that in a film, you want a story, not a history lesson. There is much to learn and explore in the actions of the terrorists, its relevance today is of course a given.
I’m not asking for the ‘theoretical masturbation’ that Meinhof is at one point accused of, but at least some shape, some theme, or at least an angle. Instead the three hours of relentless action feels like a long and fractured history lesson given by a teacher you have little faith in.
‘a series of bloody gun wounds, violent arguments, brutal kidnapping and merciless bombings, interspersed with shots of female terror-ists’ miniskirted thighs and some free spirited 70’s nudity for good measure’
Dylan’s “The Times They Are a Changin’” accompanies the credits. I’m sure it was somehow very relevant to Uli Edel’s ‘message’ but for us only served to show, after three hours of soulless action, how a resonant message can actually be given in only three minutes.