Dir: Christopher Roth. Germany. 2002. 129mins.
As all Sixties survivors know, that decade had nothing to do with political protest. This portrait of Andreas Baader, the founder, with Ulrike Meinhof, of the notorious Baader-Meinhof group, reveals what it was really about: spouting vague revolutionary slogans, listening to some rather good music (in this film, Trans Am, Can), looking cool in shades and leather jackets and smoking a prodigious number of cigarettes.
Internationally, these nostalgic style and music elements are likely to be the film's primary selling point. In Germany, Baader slots loosely into a long tradition of movies about the Baader-Meinhof's reign of terror: Margarethe von Trotta's Leaden Times, Volker Schloendorff's The Lost Honour Of Katharina Blum, the compendium film Germany In Autumn and last year's Was Tun, Wenn's Brennt' Its success there depends on whether the subject has completely exhausted the interest of local audiences.
The story follows Baader in the years between 1967, when the group first began to form, and his arrest and death five years later. But, for a good three-quarters of its running time, the revolutionaries don't do anything much more subversive than steal the odd BMW, their car of choice (Germans joked at the time that its initials stood for Baader-Meinhof Wagen) and rob a couple of banks, in one case making off with only DM 8,000.
Writer-director Christopher Roth, who has clearly watched an awful lot of Godard movies, takes a freewheeling approach to his story. In a succession of very short, fragmented, impressionistic scenes peppered with dozens of intertitles noting dates and places, his characters hop tirelessly and confusingly all over Germany, Europe and even the Middle East for training by Palestinian guerillas, who seem deeply unimpressed by their pupils.
It's only after the first almost accidental killing, around the 90 minute mark, that the film begins to heat up. The real action is all telescoped into the last quarter hour, as Baader is finally run to ground in a garage in Frankfurt and, besieged by dozens of police, comes out with guns blazing a la Butch Cassidy in a deliberately ironic, semi-mythic final act of defiance. At no point is it clear what drives him, apart from some vague posturing about capitalism and Vietnam. He's a rebel without a cause who, if his life had taken a slightly different turn, could have just as easily become a drug dealer or a rock star.
Frank Giering's blank performance casts no light on the character. Though the women are supposed to be mesmerised by his charisma and the production notes speak of his "great love" for fellow-terrorist Gudrun Ensslin (Tonke), none of this is in evidence on screen. Sexist to the point of downright misogyny, he comes across, with his jowly face, moustache and gruff manner, more like a well-fed businessman than a sexy young fireband.
Just as thinly drawn is Baader's nemesis and alter ego: Kurt Krone (Glowna), the Chief of Federal Police. A hardline left-winger with a good deal of sympathy for the rebels' cause, Krone was also ruthless in his pursuit of Baader, pushing for greater police use of computer surveillance technology and an unprecedented encroachment on civil liberties. Yet this enigmatic, contradictory character never comes to life, even in a puzzling scene (which may be a dream) where he confronts Baader on a deserted country road before setting him free.
The movie has a strong sense of youth and energy. Made without support from any of Germany's numerous public funding bodies, it doesn't look like a conventional committee film and won the Festival's Alfred Bauer Prize for "a work of particular innovation". And in some ways its rough-edged look and lack of moralising are refreshing. But in the end the movie is too rambling, its dramatic structure too weak, its central character too unfocussed either to engage the emotions or to ignite any kind of debate.
Prod co: 72 Film.
Domestic distributor: Prokino.
Int'l sales: 72 Film.
Prods: Stephan Fruth, Mark Glaeser, Christopher Roth.
Scr: Roth, Moritz von Uslar.
Cinematography: Juuta Pohlmann, Bella Halben.
Prod des: Attila Saygel, Oliver Kroenke, Tobias Nolte.
Ed: Barbara Gies, Roth.
Main cast: Frank Giering, Laura Tonke, Vadim Glowna, Birge Schade.