Most American audiences likely think of Franka Potente's sweet but dumb boyfriend in Tom Tykwer's Run Lola Run (1998) when - or even if - they think of Moritz Bleibtreu at all. The German actor, though, has far more range than his sweet but, yes, rather dumb-looking face would suggest. New Yorkers will be able to sample a bit of that range when The Baader Meinhof Complex opens in their fair city tomorrow, but two of Bleibtreu's more intriguing performances have been in films directed by Oskar Roehler - and now Bleibtreu and Roehler are teaming up for two more.
In Agnes and His Brothers (2004), whose case Andrew Grant bravely argued a few years ago, Bleibtreu plays the self-loathing, sex-obsessed Hans-Jörg Tschirner, while in Elementary Particles (2006), the Bernd Eichinger-produced adaptation of Michel Houellebecq's novel Atomized, he plays the self-loathing, sex-obsessed Bruno Klement. That performance won him a Silver Bear at that year's Berlinale. Now Roehler's taking him to darker places. Much darker.
Bleibtreu's playing Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels in Jud Süß: Ein Film ohne Gewissen (Jud Süß: A Film Without Conscience), slated for release next year. Jud Süß (1940), which David Cairns wrote about here in March, is, of course, the fiercely anti-Semitic bit of Nazi propaganda directed by Veit Harlan - and yet, when it premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 1940, none other than Michelangelo Antonioni wrote, "If this is propaganda, then we welcome propaganda. This is an engaging, penetrating, extraordinarily effective film." In Roehler's film, we'll see how Goebbels roped Ferdinand Marian into taking on the title role.
Marian's played by Tobias Moretti, who's currently preparing to appear as Faust in Vienna's Burgtheater next month; as it happens, Roehler's next project will be a new adaptation of Faust and Moritz Bleibtreu will be his Mephistopheles. As Ed Meza reminds us in Variety, "High-profile cinematic adaptations of the German legend include FW Murnau's 1926 film and Peter Gorski's 1960 version, which starred Gustav Gruendgens (whose own career was the basis for Klaus Mann's novel Mephisto and István Szabó's 1981 Oscar-winning adaptation, starring Klaus Maria Brandauer)." Down they go, then, Roehler and Bleibtreu, into the blackest corners of German and cinematic history.
Christopher Hitchens makes a surprise endorsement in the current issue of Vanity Fair: "[D]on't miss the opportunity of seeing the year's best-made and most counter-romantic action thriller, The Baader Meinhof Complex. Unlike earlier depictions of the same events by German directors such as Volker Schlöndorff and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Uli Edel's film interrogates and ultimately indicts (and convicts) the West German terrorists rather than the state and society which they sought to overthrow."
Edel "suggests RAF crazies were spoiled bourgeois," notes J Hoberman in the Voice. "But they were also chickens coming home to roost: Most of the terrorists' parents opposed the Nazi regime; many of the cops and judges had served the Reich.... 'Why do new terrorist units keep emerging? What motivates them?' someone asks the police chief (Bruno Ganz), to which he answers, 'A myth.' The Baader Meinhof Complex dramatizes that myth with surprising success, even as it fails to illuminate it."
For Joseph Jon Lanthier, writing in Slant, the film is "one the rare examples of historical fiction that manages to defuse a violent series of real-life events to the point of disinterest; watching this, one can easily comprehend why the world has forgotten the fleeting terror of the German Autumn."
Image: Jud Süß: Ein Film ohne Gewissen.
Updates, 21/8: The Baader Meinhof Complex may have "the pulse and music of a thriller," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times, but those who "have accused the film of glamorizing terrorism" miss "the point that all terrorism is performative. What it does show, from the inside out, is how a group of people graduated from theoretical debates to guns, from hanging up a photo of Che to embracing revolutionary martyrdom.
Online listening tip. Stefan Aust, the former editor of Der Spiegel who wrote the book the film's based (and collaborated with producer Bernd Eichinger on the screenplay), is a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.
Updates, 22/8: "At a grueling two and a half hours, [The Baader Meinhof Complex] trades narrative cohesion for a reenacted chronology of West Germany's postwar anarchist calamity," writes Genevieve Yue at Reverse Shot. "More an index of Aust's book than the contents, Uli Edel's film contains a dizzying litany of dates and locations, and the ever-present blast of gunpowder: like the simple acting-out of a timeline. Considering that it depicts an incredibly heady era in recent German history, the film is surprisingly dull and unimaginative.... Regardless of the relation each of these events had to those in West Germany, they're all presented as ancillary and edited down to their goriest money shots, reflecting The Baader Meinhof Complex's own bloodlust and agitated frenzy."
Slate's Dana Stevens finds that "this starkly unromantic epic ultimately benefits from its 150-minute running time, immersing the audience in the RAF's journey from shared passion to collective madness as their movement runs its full, sad, bloody course."
"If you're still left with any doubt by the end credits about which speaks louder, action or words, then the landmark Dylan protest anthem 'Blowin' in the Wind' should clear it all up," writes Benjamin Mercer in the L Magazine. "That The Baader-Meinhof Complex is still second-guessing whether it's siding too much with the pretty young things with the pistols after the final fade to black is a real testament to how disastrously overcautious it is."
Amos Barshad talks with Edel for Vulture.