Ter­rific as a ter­ror­ist

Martina Gedeck tells Kevin Ma­her about her brush with the Baader- Mein­hof gang

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

Martina Gedeck stud­ied archival footage and au­dio records in pre­par­ing for her role as Ul­rike Mein­hof in

WHEN Martina Gedeck was 11 and liv­ing in Berlin, her fa­ther, a prom­i­nent lo­cal busi­ness­man, got the dreaded phone call. ‘‘ We are the BaaderMein­hof gang,’’ the caller said. ‘‘ We have kid­napped your daugh­ter and we want one mil­lion marks for her safe re­turn. To­day!’’

Gedeck wasn’t in school or at home at the time. She was sup­posed to be at a cin­ema in Char­lot­ten­burg, but there was no way of con­tact­ing her. She was a per­fect, and per­fectly vul­ner­a­ble, tar­get for the in­fa­mous ur­ban gueril­las of Baader-Mein­hof, aka the Red Army Fac­tion, who used kid­nap­ping and ex­tor­tion as in­stru­ments of ter­ror and means of fundrais­ing. Her fa­ther called the po­lice, who stormed the cin­ema in Char­lot­ten­burg, where they found her hap­pily en­sconced with her school friends.

‘‘ Who knows?’’ Gedeck says. ‘‘ Maybe it was just some­one hav­ing a joke. But that’s what the at­mos­phere was like in the 1970s, very threat­en­ing. The ques­tion was al­ways: ‘ Will the BaaderMein­hof come and get us?’ ’’

To­day Gedeck, 47, is a multi-award-winning ac­tor, Ger­many’s Meryl Streep if you will, who has wowed audiences re­cently in The Lives of Oth­ers , Atom­ised and op­po­site Matt Da­mon and Robert De Niro in The Good Shep­herd . The Baader-Mein­hof gang, how­ever, has fi­nally got her, body and soul. For she’s star­ring as Ul­rike Mein­hof in Uli Edel’s mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar his­tor­i­cal block­buster The Baader Mein­hof Com­plex .

The film is an epic and of­ten har­row­ing de­pic­tion of the first 10 years of the or­gan­i­sa­tion, from 1967 to 1977, and its grad­ual slide from an­t­i­cap­i­tal­ist ide­o­log­i­cal strug­gle into bloody ni­hilis­tic vi­o­lence. As Mein­hof, a jour­nal­ist turned Marx­ist rev­o­lu­tion­ary, Gedeck charts this same de­scent. She plays an im­pas­sioned woman who be­gins by writ­ing an­gry pam­phlets but grad­u­ally dis­in­te­grates in the face of the strug­gle and ul­ti­mately ends up hang­ing her­self in a cell in Stammheim prison in the sum­mer of 1976.

Nat­u­rally, the movie has be­come a hot po­tato in Ger­many. ‘‘ Peo­ple in Ger­many get very up­set when dis­cussing this sub­ject and the film has aroused a lot of emo­tion,’’ Gedeck says. ‘‘ They see it as an open wound and I’m get­ting it from all sides: from peo­ple who agreed with Mein­hof’s mo­tives and from those who be­lieve that the de­bate should stop and that we shouldn’t be giv­ing th­ese ideas a plat­form.’’

A com­mon Ger­man com­plaint has been that the Red Army Fac­tion is glam­or­ised in the film and that the ter­ror­ists, dressed in black leather and sport­ing semi­au­to­matic weapons, have be­come hip­ster role mod­els. Gedeck, rightly, dis­misses this crit­i­cism and points to the movie’s down­beat end­ing as proof that it’s hardly a re­cruit­ing poster for a ca­reer in ur­ban vi­o­lence. ‘‘ When you come out of this film you’re not think­ing, ‘ Oh, they’re cool, they’re so hip, they’re sexy,’ ’’ she says. ‘‘ You’re just think­ing how aw­ful it was, how th­ese peo­ple couldn’t be stopped, how it got out of hand and how they were ul­ti­mately over­ruled by their own vi­o­lence.’’

Gedeck watched days of archival ma­te­rial and stud­ied the au­dio records of Mein­hof’s trial in or­der to be­come Ul­rike, but she re­fused to meet Mein­hof’s friends or fam­ily. ‘‘ They want to give you their own in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the woman and it just be­comes dis­tract­ing,’’ she says.

She says she was un­afraid of go­ing to her char­ac­ter’s dark side and, in fact, it’s some­thing she seeks out when­ever she is of­fered a role. ‘‘ I need the char­ac­ter, even if it’s only for a cou­ple of sec­onds, to be able to show this side, to show that we are all just help­less crea­tures in life and not in charge of our­selves.’’

Her East Ger­man stage siren Christa-Maria in the Os­car-winning The Lives of Oth­ers is plagued by so much de­spair and self-loathing that she flings her­self un­der a truck. Be­fore that, in Atom­ised , Gedeck played a 40-some­thing swinger who, af­ter be­ing paral­ysed dur­ing an act of sex­ual mis­ad­ven­ture ( don’t ask), throws her­self off the top of a tower block. Taken to­gether with Mein­hof’s sui­cide, well . . .

‘‘ I know!’’ says Gedeck in half-con­fes­sion, half-con­fu­sion. ‘‘ I’m not ob­sessed by death, I prom­ise. In fact I’ve just done a lovely Christ­mas com­edy called Messy Christ­mas , where I don’t throw my­self any­where ex­pect in front of the oven.’’ She ar­gues that it’s the free­dom from an over­whelm­ingly op­pres­sive life that in­ter­ests her. She’s big on free­dom, in­tel­lec­tual and spir­i­tual, and has been since she was a child.

She doesn’t know where this has come from, but be­ing the old­est of three girls, grow­ing up in Bavaria and then Berlin, and al­ways car­ry­ing the weight of her fa­ther’s ex­pec­ta­tions on her shoul­ders may have pushed her in that di­rec­tion. She says her big­gest mo­ment of early lib­er­a­tion came in 1981 when she ner­vously told her fa­ther that in­stead of be­com­ing a pro­fes­sor of his­tory ( a sub­ject she was then study­ing at the Uni­ver­sity of Berlin) and mak­ing him proud, she was go­ing to jump ship and be­come an ac­tor. ‘‘ He wasn’t an­gry,’’ she says. ‘‘ He was sweet, wished me luck, and then be­came very sup­port­ive of my ca­reer.’’

Since then it has been steady progress from play­ing girl­friends and lovers in sup­port­ing roles to star­ring as real women, such as the crip­pled farmer in the Ger­man tele­vi­sion movie Dame Gre­tel , to co-star­ring with Da­mon and De Niro in The Good Shep­herd , play­ing a spy con­tact in Berlin. ‘‘ That was a beau­ti­ful ex­pe­ri­ence,’’ she says. ‘‘ I had a tough scene to play be­cause I had to speak Latin, quot­ing Ovid, to Matt Da­mon, to show how smart I was. And De Niro just came over and said qui­etly, ‘ Martina, you can­not be wrong.’ That’s such great di­rec­tion and ex­actly what an ac­tor wants to hear.’’

She is, how­ever, no luvvie and will hap­pily push Hol­ly­wood noses com­pletely out of joint when it comes to speak­ing the truth. For in­stance, on the movie No Reser­va­tions , the big-bud­get Cather­ine Zeta Jones ve­hi­cle and flop re­make of Gedeck’s Ger­man hit com­edy Mostly Martha , she hisses: ‘‘ I avoided that movie. I don’t like Cather­ine Zeta Jones as an ac­tress. I find her bor­ing and very shal­low. I’m sure she’s a nice per­son but her act­ing couldn’t add any­thing to Martha .’’

She says she’s happy to go to Los An­ge­les for movie roles, just as she’s happy to go to Italy ( her next film is the chaotic Ital­ian com­edy drama Bella Famiglia ). Al­though you sus­pect that with awards, no­to­ri­ety and hot-but­ton movies to her name, she has lit­tle left to prove. She lives in Berlin’s Dahlem district with her part­ner, Swiss film di­rec­tor Markus Im­bo­den, and she hasn’t ruled out mar­riage and chil­dren. ‘‘ OK, well maybe I won’t be able to do chil­dren when I’m 70,’’ she jokes. ‘‘ But . . . I’ve been mar­ried so of­ten in film, I re­ally want to do it some­time.’’

Mean­while, she says, she’s wait­ing for the Baader-Mein­hof hoopla to die down so she can get on with her life.

‘‘ At the mo­ment, in Berlin it’s like be­ing in a small town where every­one knows you,’’ she says. ‘‘ I go out­side and I have to dress nice and be nice and be­have.’’ And what hap­pens when you don’t want to be­have? ‘‘ Well, some­times I hide un­der a cap. [ At] other times I just stay in­doors. And some­times,’’ she says, with a dev­il­ish gig­gle, ‘‘ I just don’t care!’’

The Times

Ur­ban guerilla:

The Baader Mein­hof Com­plex

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