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Bernd Eichinger Writer & Producer

Interview

What made you adapt Stefan Aust’s “The Baader Meinhof Complex” for a feature film?
I had already wanted to make a film about Ulrike Meinhof in 1978. But at the time the topic of German terrorism had not been researched sufficiently. Also, in 1978 I simply didn’t feel competent enough to tackle this multifaceted and difficult subject matter. It’s only now that I can safely say that I’m experienced enough as a filmmaker to deal with this pivotal chapter in the history of post-war Germany. But actually, this film has been gestating inside me even longer than 1978. German terrorism and the history of the RAF is a topic that has occupied me since my days as a film student in Munich in the early 70s. I had experienced the student movement of the late 60s as something very positive. The breaking down of authoritarian structures, a newly found solidarity amongst young people, the search for new ways of living and relating to one another – all these things fascinated me and left a deep impression. But then people started talking about using violence as a political instrument and that’s when I couldn’t follow any longer. I couldn’t see the point. When the movement became militant it also became authoritarian and that was unacceptable to me. When somebody confronts me with self-presumed authority, I can’t take them seriously. Nevertheless, there were a lot of people in my circle of friends who supported this militant stance. I didn’t understand their point of view. But precisely because I didn’t understand their position it has remained so fascinating to me. On the one hand I’m revolted by it, but at the same time I can’t get it out of my head because it’s a mystery that I want to solve. So you could say that my motivation to make THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX was the same as that to make DOWNFALL.

Why did you base the film on Stefan Aust’s book?
Stefan Aust’s “The Baader Meinhof Complex“ is a standard work. His book is the only really competent summary of what happened between 1967 and the “German Autumn” of 1977 in connection with the history of the RAF.

Why did you decide to have Uli Edel direct THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX?
First of all I thought it absolutely necessary to have a German director who is familiar with the subject matter. Also, I knew from the very beginning that the film was going to break with some of the most fundamental rules of narrative structure and dramaturgy in cinema: There are no heroes in this film, no-one the audience can identify with. There’s also no plot in the strictest sense, no linear narrative. Instead, it’s solely the monstrosity of events, which grabs the attention of the audience and which keeps the story moving forward. I knew that the film would have to be like a wild whitewater river that envelops and compels the audience - a river where the audience always knows that at the end a thundering waterfall awaits and everything will come to a violent finish. To create such a cinematic maelstrom, you need a director who’s able to maintain a sense of creative pressure throughout the making of a film. That kind of intensity needs to be created on the film set on a daily basis, there’s no room for slackness. You need a director who can drive a huge juggernaut of a movie machine – including a large crew, an enormous group of actors and several thousand extras – at a breakneck speed without losing control. Worldwide, there are only a handful of such directors, and Uli Edel is one of them. We met on our first day at film school in Munich in 1970. In other words, we’ve been friends from the very moment we both became filmmakers. I’ve seen every inch of celluloid Uli has ever exposed; I even know his wedding and home movies. We made CHRISTIANE F. and LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN together. I have absolute trust in him and his abilities as a filmmaker. I know what makes him tick, and I can safely say that of all the film directors around the world alive today Uli is one of best.

As with DOWNFALL, you also wrote the script to THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX. What were the challenges involved here?
First of all, I faced the problem of how to condense 10 years of history into a feature length film. A traditional approach was impossible. Instead, I decided to use a disjointed form of dramaturgy that I call “Fetzendramaturgie” (“shredded dramaturgy”). Rather than a linear narrative, the film consists of puzzle pieces, which the audience has to piece together themselves in order to get the overall picture. In practical terms, this means that characters appear, a lot of the time they remain nameless, and when they play no further part in the story they disappear again. There is no one with whom the viewer can identify, because I did not want hinge the film emotionally onto one character. To side emotionally with one character would have automatically implied a certain interpretation of the film – and that’s exactly what I wanted to avoid. On the contrary, I wanted the film to ask questions without providing any answers. This was neither going to be a didactic film nor a modern morality play about German terrorism. I was not going to feed people bite-sized, easy to swallow answers to complex questions. After all, it’s called THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX, not "The Baader Meinhof Simplex“.

How much artistic license does the script take?
When you’re dealing with historical events where people have been killed and others have become killers, you have a responsibility as a filmmaker to be as precise and as thoroughly researched as possible. There’s only one character in the film who’s invented and that’s Horst Herold’s assistant. Whenever possible, I based the dialogues on original documents and eyewitness reports. However, I did reduce the amount of political jargon that was used amongst members of the German Left in the 70s in order to make the dialogue intelligible to today's audiences.
           
How did you and Uli Edel cast the three leads?
There were only very few actors to choose from because there aren’t many actors who can play such multifaceted and complex characters as Ulrike Meinhof, Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin. Additionally, there had to be a certain degree of semblance between the actor and the real person. What we were also looking for was a very distinct chemistry amongst the three actors, because if Meinhof, Baader and Ensslin hadn’t met, history might have turned out very differently.  

The film concentrates not so much on the RAF’s theories but on the group’s actions. Why?
That was an absolutely conscious decision. First of all, I share Stefan Aust’s main concern as a historian, which is to ask: what actually happened here, exactly? Secondly, the RAF decided to turn their back on political debate and to resort to violence; therefore it’s only logical that the film follows suit and concentrates not so much on what the RAF said, but what they did. In addition, I firmly believe that we don’t define ourselves as humans by what we say but by what we do.