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Paul A. Cantor

West Germany's 9/11

A film about the Baader Meinhof Group.

A movie with the catchy title The Baader Meinhof Complex was probably doomed at the box office from the start in its theatrical release in the United States. To have any hope of commercial success, it needed to be renamed something like Diary of a Rich, Sexy Terrorist or Bonnie and Clyde Meet the PLO or Big Bad Baader. Maybe the film will enjoy wider circulation in America now that it's available on DVD.

Just trying to explain what this movie is about suggests why watching it can be both a frustrating and an illuminating experience for Americans. The film deals with the Baader-Meinhof Group (also known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang), radicals who operated in Germany in the 1970s, engaging in the full spectrum of terrorist activities—firebombing buildings, robbing banks, kidnapping businessmen, assassinating public officials, occupying the German embassy in Stockholm and taking hostages, and, in collusion with Arab terrorists, highjacking an airliner. But to be historically accurate, I must point out that the terrorists never referred to themselves as the Baader-Meinhof Group. They called themselves the Red Army Faction, and in the film they are often referred to by the anagram RAF (the initial letters are the same in German as in English—Rote Armee Fraktion—and yes, it's "Fraktion" in German but "Faction" in English).

In short, in the space of an action-packed two and a half hours, this film covers a momentous decade in German history, raising all sorts of complicated political, socio-economic, legal, diplomatic, military, cultural, and other issues. To follow the film, it would really help to come to it already knowing who a host of German public figures from that decade were, from Willy Brandt to Helmut Schmidt, from Rudi Dutschke to Axel Springer, from Siegfried Buback to Hanns-Martin Schleyer, not to mention Ulrike Meinhof and Andreas Baader themselves. This film was made for a German audience, who are as familiar with these events as Americans are ...

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