Among the frustrations that balance the many pleasures of having so many projects due in May is not being able to write about movies. This short post won’t really help alleviate that frustration, but…
The Baader Meinhof Complex provides a compelling, even exciting, view of the infamous German terrorist group, from the early days to the long, drawn-out forced march of the trial for some of the members. It’s a remarkably balanced and subtle treatment for a movie that often has the pacing of a thriller. The terrorists are, for the most part, portrayed in complex and interesting ways, but the authorities aren’t just jack-boot thugs, either. Perhaps the most surprising part of the movie comes during a trip to a training camp in Jordan, where the free love/naked bathing culture of the Germans comes up against more conservative values. The movie suggests that the members of Baader Meinhof were both deluded and clear-eyed, that they were grandiose idiots and yet had tapped into valid concerns about U.S. imperialism and inequalities both at home and abroad. In this context, the transformation of a journalist from using peaceful means to taking extreme measures is the most interesting part of the movie.
Related in theme and by time period, Che by Soderbergh is a tale of two movies about one person. The first is a clinical and precise look at Che in the context of the success of the Cuban revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power. It manages to be both removed from the action and always in the thick of it. Soderbergh uses a kind of documentary style that’s deeply mesmerizing and largely free of editorializing.
But it’s the second film that fascinated me the most, as it’s a surreal fever dream of a movie that uses the same documentary-style clarity to totally different effect. Here the clarity of color and of composition support the story of a nightmare, as Che goes to Bolivia to try to foment revolution using the same methods as in Cuba. Except, Bolivia isn’t Cuba–the kindling for rebellion isn’t the same, the enemy isn’t the same. But Che is, as portrayed by Soderbergh, the same. If there’s editorializing in this second movie, it’s only in mercilessly showing Che’s inability to change or to acknowledge the impossibility of the task.
This second movie is an inexorable trap, becoming narrower and narrower, with fewer and fewer avenues of escape. And as the movie narrows, it opens up thematically so that by the end it is more akin to the work of Herzog. As Che’s battle-worn, starving men wander through mountain villages the searing blade of blue that is the sky, the horrifying beauty of everything around them, is captured by Soderbergh’s camera. When the end comes we are deep within a foreign country, one without borders.