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Culture

Germany's Recent Past Looms Large at the Oscars

A film about Germany's Red Army Faction is one of the movies that's in with a chance of winning an Oscar on Sunday. It's just the latest in a string of productions that deal with the nation's recent past.

Scene with two men firing on a car - scene from film

Edel's film brings history to life

Uli Edel's "The Baader-Meinhof Complex" is one of five films nominated for best foreign language film at the Academy Awards in Los Angeles.

Martina Gedeck in a scene from the film

It's Martina Gedeck's second Oscar outing

Based on a book by Stefan Aust that was first published in 1985, but only recently translated into English, the German film is facing off movies from France, Israel, Japan and Austria in the battle for the coveted prize.

But Edel's film is more than a historical account of the RAF as he charts the war of terror that Baader and Meinhof waged in their bid to undermine the state by targeting prominent Germans as well as US military bases.

"The guy in the uniform is a pig," says one RAF member in Edel's movie explaining the group's tactics. "He is not human and therefore can be shot."

"The Baader-Meinhof Complex" also goes on to portray the uproar in court when Baader and the other gang members appeared. "You are a fascist asshole," the Andreas Baader character screams at one of the judges in Edel's film.

Second time around for leading lady

Ruth (Sandra Borgmann) pointing a gun at a car. A scene from The Baader Meinhof Complex

Women as perpetrators are featured in the latest crop of movies

Starring leading German actors Martina Gedeck and Moritz Bleibtreu as the two founders of the group, Ulrike Meinhof and Andreas Baader, the movie premiered last autumn.

This is the second time that a German film starring Gedeck has been selected in the Oscar race.

Gedeck played a theater actress under pressure from the East German secret police to serve as an informant in Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's "The Lives of Others," which won the Oscar two years ago.

In an interview with the Germany press agency dpa, the 44-year-old Gedeck said she believed that the recent international success of German movies was a sign of the strong stories behind the films.

"It has to do with the extraordinary stories the films have to tell," said Gedeck. "They are true stories that have not been told, so they are interesting and different and often leave Americans with their mouths open in cinemas," she said.

Berlinale successes for German cinema

Maren Ade, silver bear winner

Maren Ade showed off her Silver Bear

As a further sign of the current strength of German cinema, the Berlin International Film Festival last week awarded German director Maren Ade a special jury prize for her movie "Alle Anderen" (Everyone Else).

Austrian-born Birgit Minichmayr won the Berlinale's best actress award for her role in "Alle Anderen".

Marking the revival in interest in the darker side of German's history, Britain's Kate Winslet has also been nominated for an Oscar as best actress for her role in "The Reader", in which she plays an illiterate older woman who, as it turns out, is a former Nazi concentration camp guard.

Based on a 1995 novel by German law professor-turned author Bernhard Schlink and directed by Britain's Stephan Daldry, "The Reader" has been nominated for five Oscars, including best picture.

This follows recent movies that have helped to shed new light on World War II and the sense of the political and human turmoil that followed the implosion of Hitler's imagined 1,000-year Reich.

"The Baader-Meinhof Complex" deals with events that rocked West Germany a generation later. Nevertheless, it has been about 30 years since the peak of the guerrilla movement's activities, which presented a major challenge to the nation's fledgling post-war democracy.

Unfolding story

Wanted poster issued in 1980 of various suspected terrorists

This chapter in German history is more than just a fading memory

The story of the RAF's campaign, however, continues to unfold. Only in the last two years has it emerged that the RAF in the 1970s planned to abduct West German Chancellor Willy Brandt and fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld.

And former faction members also continue to hit the headlines in Germany. One of the movement's leaders, Christian Klar, was released from jail in December -- just months after another RAF fighter, Brigitte Mohnhaupt, was set free.

This leaves only one RAF member still behind bars: Birgit Hogefeld, 52, also a one-time leader of the group, which was disbanded in 1998.

The recent releases are controversial partly because it still remains unclear who was actually responsible for some of the group's more high-profile murders, including the gunning down of German Employers' Federation President Hanns Martin Schleyer.

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