Films on terrorism captivate Germans

'Baader Meinhof' only one of a slew of projects

COLOGNE, Germany -- It's been 30 years since Germany was gripped by the exploits of homegrown terrorists the Baader Meinhof gang, but Germans still can't tear themselves away.

This year has seen an onslaught of dramas and documentaries on the exploits of the gang, who called themselves the Red Army Faction or RAF.

The latest volley was "Mogadischu," a two-hour telefilm that aired Sunday on public channel ARD that follows the 1977 hijacking of a planeload of German tourists by Palestinians sympathetic to the RAF.

Some 7.3 million Germans tuned in, a 21% market share, and 5.8 million stayed on for interviews with the survivors on ARD's top-rated talk show "Anne Will."

Then there's Uli Edel's "The Baader Meinhof Complex." With ticket receipts at $22 million and counting, Germany's official entry for the foreign-language Oscar is a local boxoffice hit as well.

Add to that the countless number of news reports, television documentaries and magazine stories on the RAF that come out every other week here, and you get an idea of how much '70s terrorism remains a part of the modern German zeitgeist.

Discussion flared up again just last month when a German court said it would release one of the RAF's most notorious and unrepentant leaders, Christian Klar, in January after 26 years behind bars.

Germany isn't alone in its obsession with local terrorists. Steve McQueen's award-winning and controversial directorial debut "Hunger" looks at the last six weeks in the life of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands.

Spanish director Jaime Rosales' "Bullet in the Head," which drew angry jeers from some in the audience at its San Sebastian debut, is based on the murder last year of two Spanish Civil Guard by Basque separatists.

"Mogadischu" and "Baader Meinhof" provide interesting bookends to Germany's ongoing discussion on the RAF -- seen by some here as anti-establishment heroes, by others as cold-blooded murderers. While Edel's film tells the story from the perspective of the terrorists -- played by some of Germany's most famous and sexiest stars -- in "Mogadischu" director Roland Suso Richter focuses on the victims. The hero of his story is Lufthansa pilot Jurgen Schumann, played by Thomas Kretchmann, who was killed trying to save his passengers.

The combination of politics, violence and nostalgia mean the story of the RAF is likely to continue to obsess German audiences. This year, Berlin's UFA Cinema announced the flagship production in its new slate: an adaptation of Bernhard Schlink's "The Weekend." The story? A RAF terrorist is released from prison and seeks redemption from his family and friends. The film's release is planned for 2010.
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