If Not Us, Who? (Wer Wenn Nicht Wir?) (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner02/03/2012

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 124 mins

A solidly directed and superbly acted drama that would stand as a good companion piece to The Baader-Meinhof Complex, however the script is occasionally frustrating and it loses focus towards the end.

What's it all about?
Directed by Andres Veiel, If Not Us, Who? (Wer Wenn, Nicht Wir, original title fans) is based on a true strory and begins in 1949, with a young Bernward Vesper (Jonas Hammerle) attempting to hide his bird-killing cat from his ex-Nazi author father (Thomas Thieme), only to have him shoot it and explain to him that “Cats are from the East – they are the Jews of the animal kingdom.” Nevertheless, Bernward (now played by August Diehl) grows up into a passionate defender of his father's works and establishes his own printing press in order to rehabilitate his father's reputation.

In doing so, he meets student activist Gudrun Ensslin (Lena Lauzemis) and the two become lovers, eventually having a baby together. However, when Gudrun meets charismatic, violent revolutionary Andreas Baader (Alexander Fehling), she abandons the child and becomes heavily involved with both Andreas and his cause. Meanwhile, Bernward devotes his career to publishing revolutionary material and slowly begins to crack up, under the combined strain of his relationship with Gudrun, his increasing drug use and his own writing.

The Good
August Diehl and Lena Lauzemis are both excellent, delivering intense performances that are occasionally unsettling, particularly when we witness – in the first of two memorably shocking scenes – Gudrun's horrific method of self-harming. There's also strong support from Fehling as the preening, self-obsessed Baader and Maria-Victoria Dragus, who provides a small but welcome note of humour as Gudrun's younger sister Ruth.

Shot in a similar style, but deliberately avoiding action sequences (which makes the occasional moments of violence that much more shocking) in favour of intellectual discussion, If Not Us, Who? would make a good companion piece to Uli Edel's The Baader-Meinhof Experience. It also makes extremely pertinent points about the seeming futility of political action, something that strikes a chillingly topical note.

The Bad
That said, the script is occasionally frustrating – characters come and go (judging by her haircut, one briefly glimpsed character is presumably meant to be Ulrike Meinhof, but she's never named) and the story loses focus towards the end as it skips erratically forward, trying to cover too much ground. This isn't helped by Veiel's tendency to include occasional (and unnecessary) montages of archive news clips set to period rock music.

Worth seeing?
If Not Us, Who? is an engaging and occasionally powerful German drama with terrific performances from the two leads, but the pacing is erratic and the script is often frustrating.

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Content updated: 02/08/2014 09:34

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