ROME (Reuters Life!) - German director Uli Edel said on Friday he tried to portray both the fascination and horror sparked by the Red Army Faction, the left-wing guerrilla movement at the center of his latest film.
"The Baader Meinhof Complex," screening at the Rome film festival, tells the story of the founding members of the faction and the trail of blood they left behind them in a decade-long campaign of bombings, killings and kidnappings.
The film, shot in a documentary-style and based on a bestselling book by Stefan Aust, has been picked as Germany's entry for best foreign language film at the 2009 Academy Awards.
At home, where it premiered last month, it has rekindled a long-running debate on a bloody chapter of post-Nazi Germany that still haunts the country.
It has also drawn mixed reviews as some critics felt the film glamorized the militants, played by some of Germany's most famous actors, and focused too little on the suffering of the victims and their families.
"My aim was to bring people to face the reality of those years and also show that some of the characters could seem very cool and attractive and then become terrifying," Edel told reporters after a press screening.
"My country has not yet reconciled itself with that period and I hope the film helps the debate," he said.
Aust, whose book is considered a reference work on the guerrilla, added: "This is history but people are still affected by it, as if it happened yesterday or the day before.
The Red Army Faction (RAF), also known as the "Baader-Meinhof Gang" after founders Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, grew out of the student protest and anti-Vietnam war movements in the West Germany of the late 1960s.
The group is suspected of killing 34 people between 1970 and 1991 as a "second generation" of militants took over from Meinhof and Baader, who committed suicide in prison in 1976 and 1977 respectively. The movement disbanded in 1998.
Edel, best known abroad for his 1981 film "Christiane F." about a teenage heroin addict in Berlin, said he too as a university student had at first sympathized with the RAF, like many young Germans at the time.
"I told the story the way we lived through it. I was fascinated by them and that continued up to a certain point. The film shows clearly at what stage the fascination turned into horror and you could no longer identify with them," he said.
The film, billed as the most expensive in German history, mixes original newsreel with graphic reconstructions of the attacks carried out by the militants -- which Edel said were accurate down to the number of bullets used in each murder.
While some of the victims' relatives felt the film was too soft on the Red Army Faction and its motivations, others have praised it as thorough and balanced.
"It shows the whole unrestrained brutality of the RAF without damaging the memory of the victims," said Joerg Schleyer, son of employer federation head Hanns Martin Schleyer who was kidnapped and murdered by the RAF, to German media.
(Additional reporting by Madeline Chambers in Berlin)
Editing by Paul Casciato