Category Archives: War

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.

-mike

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

Overlord (1975)

Director: Stuart Cooper

Screenplay: Christopher Hudson, Stuart Cooper

World War II is possibly one of the most difficult subjects to aptly portray on film.  That’s not to say that it isn’t attempted again and again to varying degrees of success, but more recent fare such as Edward Zwick’s Defiance, Bryan Singer’s Valkyrie and Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds lean toward frivolity as a result of their historical inaccuracy and lack of depth.  It’s hardly surprising then, that of the monstrous offering of WWII films, only a small percentage can be viewed as anything more than cheap entertainment.

Perhaps it seems strange to fault a film for being nothing more than entertainment. Yet when it comes to depicting the horrors of World War II, film does indeed have a duty to uphold.  Historical accuracy is primary, but also needed are attempts at preserving the fragments and complexities that make up war.  Exploration of these aspects not only strengthens what we know of the war, but also creates the opportunity for an audience to consider perspectives beyond those typically framed by the standard war film.

For its part, Overlord is above and beyond the standard war film, playing out like a feverish dream and toying with the intimacy one might experience from secretly reading someone’s diary.  The film practically breathes, it’s so deeply entrenched in what it means for a young man to literally hand over his life to the state in a time of war.  Melding actual archival World War II footage into the film, Overlord riffs on neo-realism several decades after it was made fashionable by filmmakers like Roberto Rossellini and Kenji Mizoguchi.  The story follows Tom, a quiet 20-year-old, as he’s called up for basic training before ultimately taking part in the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

The film itself is pure poetry: from the direction, to the dialogue to the seamless integration of archival war footage alongside the brilliant camera work of cinematographer John Alcott.  All of it induces a powerful range of emotions: confusion, fear, love, innocence lost, helplessness and finally a morose acceptance of it all.  As Tom submits himself to the state’s will, he’s become what he’s trained to be: a soldier; an empty vessel designed strictly to complete an objective, come what may.

Though Overlord doesn’t investigate the war as a whole, it does a superb job of investigating a life – a single solitary life, and what it means to simply relinquish that life for what would be considered a greater cause.  In the process of this,  Overlord makes no judgements on these circumstances, but it does encourage its audience above all, to feel.

-mike

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Filed under England, European Cinema, Mike, War