Knowing I am the author of LOVE, GUDRUN ENSSLIN, the kind folk at film distributor Soda Pictures tracked me down and sent me a screener of a movie that is about to be released nationwide in the UK from 2nd March. The film is IF NOT US, WHO – a new movie biopic of the life of Gudrun Ensslin.
As my novel (and the Stefan Aust movie Der Baader Meinhof Komplex) show, Gudrun Ensslin (and the Baader Meinhof Gang itself) are once more in the public consciousness – due equally perhaps to the banker-led global recession (with its concomitant discrediting of the modern capitalist system) and a general (and timely) nostalgia for the 1960s/70s.
However, for me, it was especially exciting as the author of a novel that features Gudrun as its central figure to discover a movie that does precisely the same thing. Thus it was with huge anticipation that I placed the screener in the DVD player at the weekend.
I am happy to report that IF NOT US, WHO is excellent – not only is it an accurate and compelling study of the personal life and tribulations of the leader of West Germany’s Red Army Faction (Baader Meinhof Gang) but also an engrossing example of stylish and sophisticated European cinema.
While Stefan Aust’s (also excellent) Der Baader Meinhof Komplex focused on the history of the RAF (and its three generations) as an organisation, IF NOT US, WHO instead follows the personal trajectory of the Gang’s main protagonist through her pre-RAF days up to the point that she jointly establishes the terrorist group with Andreas Baader.
IF NOT US, WHO thereby introduces a wider (film) audience to Gudrun Ensslin the person – the woman behind the myth/legend – showing how she arrived at such a point of radicalisation and ideological zeal that she was prepared to commit acts of terror and leave her husband and son for the life of a revolutionary/urban guerrilla and providing a glimpse of the family background and the context in which she spent her formative years.
The film stars Lena Lauzemis as Gudrun and August Diehl (previously seen in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds) as Bernward Vesper. Intelligently written and sensitively directed by Andres Veiel, IF NOT US, WHO has already enjoyed significant critical acclaim in Germany – winning a Bronze Bear Award at the prestigious International Berlin Film Festival (the world’s largest publically attended movie festival) in 2011.
During the film, equal weight is given to Gudrun’s husband (who she left for Baader), Bernward Vesper and their turbulent (and doomed) relationship is placed squarely centre-stage. Beginning and ending with Vesper, the film is as much his story – although the enigmatic Gudrun nevertheless remains the undoubted star; mesmerising and captivating whenever she is on the screen.
With a truly impressive eye for period detail – and interwoven with archive film clips that bring the era back to life – the movie follows the burgeoning relationship between Vesper and Ensslin (as idealistic university students, political campaigners and greenhorn publishers) through their doomed marriage (mainly damaged by Vesper’s compulsive philandering – behaviour perhaps triggered as much by his troubled childhood as by the ideology-driven permissiveness of the time) to Ensslin’s ultimately fatal but globally notorious pairing with Andreas Baader.
By the end of the film there are only victims – Vesper, Gudrun and, poignantly, the couple’s son, Felix. However, there is also insight, understanding and a sense of what might have been had the path of resistance also been the path of peace. It is a testament to the film-makers (and the committed and convincing cast) that this movie succeeds completely in being intelligent, perceptive and thought provoking whilst also providing captivating, pacy and stylish entertainment (…all of which are also aims of my novel…although far be it from me to pronounce judgment on my own endeavours!)
IF NOT US, WHO ends almost exactly at the point my novel LOVE, GUDRUN ENSSLIN picks up the Gudrun story. The overlap is the bombing of the Frankfurt department store that was Andreas and Gudrun’s first joint ‘action’. May I humbly suggest that, if you have not done so already, you go and see this excellent film…and then… (pretty please!) go read my book!!