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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Wer Wenn Nicht Wir?

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West Germany in the early 1960s. Bernward Vesper takes up his studies in Tübingen where he is attending Walter Jens’ seminar on rhetoric. Bernward wants to be a writer and spends his nights bashing the keys of a typewriter. At the same time he is keen to defend his father, the poet Will Vesper who was celebrated by the Nazis as a proponent of their Blut und Boden ideology. One day Bernward meets Gudrun Ensslin, marking the beginning of an extreme relationship that is unquestioning and excessive, a love story that goes beyond pain, family and politics.

In West Germany during the roaring ’60s, a group of young people interested in the destiny of their country are trying to make their voices heard and to generate the change in entire society. Some of them remain committed to the power of the written word, while others conclude that the time for words has passed and they must speak out in acts, even if this could turn their fellow citizens – and even members of their families – into unintended victims. Both the former ones and the latter ones are striving not to repeat the mistakes of their parents, who had allowed Hitler’s rise to power and had even conspired with the Third Reich. Wer Wenn Nicht Wir? (If Not Us, Who?) talks about passion and rebellion, temptation and violence, political activism and family responsibility, but, above all, about an explosive era. Moreover, the film makes us witnesses to the birth of terrorist group Baader-Meinhof (also known as the Red Army Faction), which described itself as a communist and anti-imperialist urban guerrilla, fighting with an alleged fascist state.

Bernward Vesper (* 1. August 1938 in Frankfurt; † 15. May 1971 in Hamburg) was a German writer, a political activist and a publisher. Vesper was the son of the National Socialist poet Will Vesper. Substantial parts of Bernward Vesper's novel Die Reise (The Journey) report of childhood, school time and youth in the only apparently idyllic landscape of the 1950's, as well as of suffering in an authoritarian parents' house. After graduating the high school Bernward Vesper started to work in Braunschweig as a publisher and bookseller. Subsequently he enrolled for German studies and sociology in Tübingen. It was during this time that he met Gudrun Ensslin (who later would be a leader of the Red Army Faction). Both created in 1963 the Studio for New Literature. The stormy relationship between Bernward and Gudrun went on with dramatic ups and downs, and their son, Felix, came to the world in 1967. Eventually they broke, as Gudrun started a new relationship with Andreas Baader in 1968 and decided to dedicated all her life exclusively to the militant activities. Starting from autumn 1969 Vesper traveled across Europe. He began to write his novel-essay, that he could not complete, as he had a severe nervous breakdown and took his life in 1971. The novel would be published in 1977. Today Die Reise is considered as an influential representation of the 68's generation.

Wer Wenn Nicht Wir? (2011) - Trailer
(video by vipmagazin)

The first thing that comes to mind is to compare this movie with the well-known Der Baader-Meinhof Komplex. While that one chronicles the radical militant group to get the understanding of some typologies (the professional revolutionary, the fanatic, the camarade de route), here in Wer Wenn Nicht Wir we have the view on the universe that eventually generated the Red Army Faction. But it is more than that: this movie tries (and in my opinion succeeds) to get the breath of Die Reise, the novel-essay written by Bernward Vesper. It is a world not limited to RAF. The book is the life of its author, his life is the book, while his life (thus the book) offers the paradigm of the first German generation raised after WWII - a frenetic journey hitting all extremes, permanently loosing balance, trying in vain to find a sense, while choosing only impossible solutions.

(Andres Veiel)



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