Release date: August 13th, 2012
Running time: 125 minutes
Country of origin: Germany
Original language: German with English subtitles
Writer and director: Andres Veiel
Cast: August Diehl, Lena Lauzemis, Alexander Fehling, Benjamin Sadler
In the 10 years that have passed since the September 11th attacks the world has changed so much. In that time, like many of you might have done, I’ve thought a lot about what can motivate a person to take part in such acts of terrorism.
Thinking about this has lead to me to not only reading books on the subject matter by authors like Gordon Graham, Michael Waltzer and Paul Gilbert, but also studying it as part of my university degree.
It’s also made me acutely aware of films where terrorism plays a key part and Andres Veiel´s “Wer wenn nicht wir“ (If Not Us, Then Who?) offers an opportunity to see it from a different perspective.
Unlike the September 11th attacks, which on the surface appear to religiously motivated, the attacks that took place in West Germany in 1968 were through and through political in nature. Rather than looking at it from the outside, Veiel tells the story in way that illustrates how these ideas escalated to such drastic actions.
August Diehl plays Bernward Vesper, the son of former Nazi poet, Will Vesper, and the film follows him very closely, first as a student whose passion for literature leads him to set up a publishing company that will help fund his studies. He meets Gudrun Ensslin (Lena Lauzemis) who is just as passionate about changing the world as he is and she becomes his lover and partner in the publishing company.
An ongoing conflict for Bernward is his struggle to accept that his ideas about his father and his ideas about what he wants to do in the world are basically incompatible and this creates much tension in his relationship with Gudrun. However, she is not without her own deep-rooted problems as well.
As the years pass and their publishing company takes off, they realise that books alone cannot change the world. They are inspired by Marx, Engels, Martin Luther King and many of the liberal movements, such as the Black Panther movement, springing up at the time to try and crush capitalism, imperialism and the devastation of the Vietnam War.
The point where Gudrun embarks on a more radical approach coincides with the arrival of Andreas Baader (Alexander Fehling); founder of the Red Army Faction terrorist group depicted in the 2008 film The Baader-Meinhof Complex.
With Andreas she finds a more intense relationship, choosing to leave behind Bernward and their small child Felix, believing that only through extreme action change can be accomplished. When a protest against the Shah of Iran at Deutsche Oper Berlin ends with a student being shot in the back of the head by the police, Gudrun and Andreas step up the tactics to fight against the system. They fire-bomb department stores in Frankfurt, where a Socialist German Student Union congress is taking place and then go on the run.
Bernward, unable to cope with his problems and looking after Felix, begins his own descent and though he tries to support Gudrun during her trial with Andres, we know through history the outcome of all their actions only too well.
Combining archive footage together with the narrative, Veiel makes a film that is interesting as it is informative. There’s much that I didn’t know about these people, for example, it always seemed so cold the way Gudrun abandons Bernward and Felix but through private letters Veiel uncovered how much she fought with this decision and this personal crisis is shown in the film.
As characters though, they are extremely difficult to relate to. it’s not easy to put myself in their shoes, not because of their radical actions, but because of they behave in their personal relationships with each other. This at times made it hard to care about them because in some ways they are their own worst enemies. Despite this, If Not Us, Then Who? is a film with depth and is challenging in the way it shows us the fine line between being a freedom fighter and a terrorist.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .