If Not Us, Who?

125 minutes

Generally misunderstood upon its premiere at the 2011 Berlinale, documentary filmmaker Andres Veiel's second feature suggests a roundabout way to look at the troubled history of post-World War II Germany and the inevitable meddling of politics and personal life, as it traces the arc of a 1960s love story in the university town of Tübingen. But not just any two lovers: Gudrun Ensslin (Lena Lauzemis), who would become the key ideologue of the Red Army Faction terrorist group, and Bernward Vesper (August Diehl), son of official Nazi novelist Will Vesper. (Towards the end of the 1960s, ms. Ensslin would take up with Andreas Baader, here portrayed by Alexander Fehling.) The film catches them first as brilliant college students whose intelligence and energy literally had to be channeled into attempting to rescue Germany from its ostrich-like refusal to confront the past and engage the present.
     Whether that channeling was done correctly or not is besides mr. Veiel's point, since he is aiming at a portrait of a generation stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea, aware that they could not live their lives in the heart of Europe without accepting the role of history and politics; coming as it does from a documentary director, If Not Us, Who? is not so much about judgement as it is about understanding and contextualising the Germany that led these two young people to their fates. Careening forward in episodic scenes that show ms. Ensslin's progressive radicalisation and mr. Vesper's attempts at engaging the world at large, as well as the way their love affair responds to and mutates with their changing ideas and situations, If Not Us, Who? has its share of flaws. But mr. Veiel redeems them through the frightening intelligence he uses to frame his tale of a love won and lost through politics, and the stunning performances of his two leads. Ms. Lauzemis inhabits the mercurial nature of ms. Ensslin, mr. Diehl comes on as a young Klaus Kinski, and both capture perfectly the urgent demands the times put on young Germans of the 1960s. It's a smart film that deserves a long, hard look.

Starring August Diehl, Lena Lauzemis, Alexander Fehling. 
     Directed by Andres Veiel; produced by Thomas Kufus; screenplay by Andres Veiel, based on the book by Gerd Koenen, Vesper, Ensslin, Baader; music by Annette Focks; director of photography (Cinepostproduction, widescreen), Judith Kaufmann; production designer, Christian M. Goldbeck; costume designer, Bettina Marx; film editor, Hansjörg Wellbrich.
     A Zero One Film production in co-production with SWR, ARD-Degeto, WDR, Deutschfilm, Senator Film Production; with the support of Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, MFG, Filmförderung Schleswig-Holstein, Hessische Filmfonds, Filmförderungsanstalt, Deutscher Filmförderfonds. (German distributor, Senator. World sales, The Match Factory.)
     Screened: Berlin Film Festival 2011, official selection, Berlinale Palast (Berlin), February 17th 2011.


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