Category Archives: Biopic

Der Baader Meinhof Komplex (The Baader Meinhof Complex) (2008)

Director: Uli Edel

Screenplay: Bernd Eichinger, Uli Edel, Stefan Aust (Book)

Early last year, a German friend of mine was going through a list of German films that I needed to see.  As he finished up his list, I couldn’t help but noticing that one film in particular – one film that had found its way into both the Oscar and BAFTA nominations for best foreign film that year – was missing.  “What about The Baader Meinhof Complex?” I asked.  His brow instantly furrowed and his mouth twisted up as though I had just forced him to eat something particularly foul.  “It’s shit,” he hissed, “Stay away from it.  Don’t even watch it.”  So adamant about me not seeing the film was he, that I actually did stay away from it.  Until now.  After deciding that it finally was time to make my own mind up about it all, I sought out Der Baader Meinhof Komplex and gave it a chance.

In the early 1970’s, a group of radical, left wing, militant German activists known as the RAF (Red Army Faction) or more commonly, The Baader-Meinhof Group, was formed.  Espousing Marxist-Leninist beliefs and a desire to overthrow what they believed to be a fascist German state, the group was responsible for numerous bombings, 34 murders and various bank robberies.  With that little taste of background, I’ve officially provided just as much, if not slightly more information about the group than the entire film does in its 150 minute running time.

Due to director Uli Edel’s desire to place the group’s actions over any actual insight into even one of its members, the film plays out as little more than a repetitive series of violent episodes.  Edel seems to feel that the film somehow moves at a better momentum with an entire host of zero/one dimensional characters.  Yes it’s clear that these people will sacrifice everything in order to pursue their revolutionary goals, but why?  Who are these people?  What leads a horde of middle class German twenty-somethings to wage war on the state in 1970?  (I’m assuming that it’s 1970 because one of the film’s most persistently annoying aspects is the lack of any sort of titles, leaving the viewer clueless as to specific dates, times and locations.)

As the film progresses, the characters become increasingly indistinguishable from one another – an intentional attempt at illustrating the suffocating homogeny of the group, perhaps, but monotonous all the same.  Bombs go off, guns are fired and group members are either arrested or killed without so much as a modicum of effort rendered toward showcasing more than just Rebellion.  To be completely honest, none of these characters really even seemed to like one another much, which is odd considering that their goals appeared to be one and the same.

The film does have its share of interesting and dare I say intriguing moments, but what tension or excitement these build up is quickly diluted by repeating the same processes again and again without any further insight into what’s actually taking place.  The great German actress Martina Gedeck’s portrayal of Ulrike Meinhof comes the closest to a protagonist as the film has to offer, but Meinhof as an upper class, socially conscious journalist who leaves her adulterous husband is hardly enough to justify her joining the ranks of the RAF.  In the end we’re left with zero understanding of the issues that surrounded the RAF and because of this, a trip to Wikipedia would be a more productive means of trying to come to terms with these people than 150 minutes of ‘splosions ever could be.



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Filed under Biopic, European Cinema, Germany, Mike, Uncategorized, War


Lust for Life (1956)

Director: Vincente Minnelli

Screenplay: Norman Corwin

Kirk Douglas gives one of the screen’s great performances as Vincent van Gogh in this artist biopic, filmed in luscious Metrocolor with CinemaScope lenses. What Douglas accomplishes as Van Gogh is loads more impressive than the over-feted celeb-mimicry of recent biopics (i.e. Foxx as Ray; Hoffman as Capote; Streep as Child). Without video evidence of the artist’s living personality, mannerisms, vocal intonations (a luxury that more often than not turns acting into impersonating), Douglas is left instead with the task of re-vivifying, in flesh, the emotional expressiveness found in Van Gogh’s artistic legacy (his paintings, as well as his famous letters to his brother Theo). It’s a performance that draws equally on the physical and the psychological; Douglas’s muscular body—shown vigorously at work as a miner early in the film, and violently as a drawer and painter thereafter—seems constantly ravaged by Van Gogh’s creative hunger and inner agonies. (How the hell did Douglas lose the Oscar to Yul Brenner?*) As Paul Gauguin (in a role that won him the Supporting Oscar), Anthony Quinn threatens to devour the scenery every time he’s on screen, but his trademark volcanism and bluster are kept in balance with Douglas’s implosive, frayed-nerve sensitivity. Whenever the two share scenes, the body thrills.  And if you leave aside the acting, the picture is still a beauty—narratively fluid and gloriously eye-filling. Minnelli’s use of Van Gogh’s psycho-colours as inspiration for his own palette yields a masterful symbiosis; the film’s visualization of Van Gogh’s The Night Café alone proves that, pace b&w devotees, colour belongs to the cinema.

*Jesus Christ, look who else Yul, the “King of Siam,” beat out that year: Sir Laurence Olivier (Richard III); James Dean and Rock Hudson (both Giant).


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