If Not Us, Who? (2011)

Cert (UK):
 15  Runtime: 104 min


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Starting in the early 60s we follow the developing relationship between Bernward Vesper and fellow university student Gudrun Ensslin. Both have a fascination with the written word. Both struggle to come to terms with the Nazi period and the role of their Fathers in it. Bernward’s father is a former Nazi author whilst Gudrun questions why her father enlisted and obeyed orders.

Bernward and Gudrun found a publishing house which oddly brings out a controversial past work of Bernward’s  Nazi father. They even court the extreme right press for reviews. As the publishing house develops, however, it moves sharply to the left.  In 1964 they move to Berlin which is a hotbed for left writers and political activists. Here they are influenced by the repression of protests against the visit of the Shah of Iran. During one of the protests Detective Sgt. Karl Heinz shoots a protestor, Benno Ohnesorg. This pushes some to greater radicalism. They become part of a growing social protest movement: “If not us, who; If not now, when?”

By the late 60s, Gudrun is the lover of Andreas Baader’s. Baader believes that violence is the solution. In 1968 Baader and Ensslin were convicted of the arson bombing of a department store in Frankfurt supposedly to protest the public’s “indifference” to the “genocide” in Vietnam. They formed the Red Army Faction (Rote Armee Fraktion) in 1970.In The film charts the descent of Ensslin into violence and their progressive alienation from “ordinary” life. The RAF is shown for what it was –  an embodiment of the guilt and revulsion of many young Germans toward both their parents and the system.

Lena Lauzemis is convincing as Gudrun Ennslin who develops a fanaticism that sacrifices even life with her children.  The belief of her and others that “Violence is the only way to answer violence,”  was a minority one. Nor was it inevitable that she and the others in this film would form that view. There were many influences and connections that lead to that point and a break in any one of those might have led to happier conclusions for both them and German civil society.

One of my main criticisms of the film is that it fails to portray the intensity of the relationship between Ennslin and Baader.

This is a sad film in which it is difficult to sympathise with the central characters even though they are clearly victims of a sort.


Reviewed by Patrick Harrington


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