The Edukators

"Weak"

The Edukators Review


Is there any room for social activism in this day of lockstep capitalism? How does one militate against a system when one is too busy just trying to make ends meet? Indeed, the machinery of what one character in Hans Weingartner's The Edukators calls a "capitalist dictatorship" depends on the subjugation of the weak and the poor -- those mostly likely to revolt -- so that the rich can remain in power. It's not a revolutionary observation, but it remains a provocative one and forms the basis of Weingartner's seriocomic parable, which he co-wrote with Katharina Held.

In such an unjust society, what's a pretty girl to do? If you're the hapless Julie (Julia Jentsch), you scrape by as a waitress in an upscale restaurant, struggling to pay your rent, chafing all the while under the glare of your snide superiors. Julie's lot only gets worse when she's booted from her apartment and, soon after, from her job. Luckily, her boyfriend, Peter (Stipe Erceg) offers to put her up in his hovel -- one he already shares with Jan (Daniel Brühl), his close friend and political confidante.

Jan and Peter make a combustible pair: While Jan is a tousle-haired malcontent, the sort of guy you'd find passing out left-wing leaflets outside your college union, the gangly Peter is cool and carefree, with the air of a punk rocker. In fact, he and Jan are punk stars in their own right, owing to their misfit social activism. Under their nom de guerre, The Edukators, these guys breaks into rich folks' villas by night, proceed to rearrange their personal belongings, then disappear, leaving behind a note that reads: "Your days of plenty are numbered." It's The Edukators' way of rocking the capitalist boat, breaking the law without upsetting common morality.

Anarchy never felt so easy and guilt-free, until the night The Edukators -- with Julie in tow -- botch their most recent break-in and end up kidnapping the businessman whose home they were targeting. Weingartner's movie now becomes a compelling four-character class comedy, with tinges of thriller and psychodrama. It's a welcome shift from the opening third of The Edukators, which is far too airy and listless for any tension to sufficiently crystallize. The movie's saving grace comes in the person of the wonderful Burghart Klaussner playing Hardenberg, the kidnapped victim. We're never quite sure what to make of Klaussner's unflappable Hardenberg -- he's equal parts an aging patrician seeking his own lost youth and a Machiavellian wheeler-dealer looking for chinks in his enemy's armor.

Eager to give their debacle some revolutionary currency, The Edukators seek to make an example out of Hardenberg -- hoping to incite mass uprisings everywhere against the ruling class. It's as quixotic a notion as anything dreamed up by naïve young idealists, as the seasoned Hardenberg points out. Slowly, he gets under the skin of the flustered trio as they hole up in a cabin set against the jaw-dropping Alpine countryside.

In fact, Hardenberg is the prism for Weingartner's central theme -- that eventually, matters of survival win out over lofty idealism. Once a rebel himself, Hardenberg confesses that he gave up his youthful ideals and, without even realizing it, began conforming to society's rules to ensure that he didn't turn into one of its disenfranchised victims. As tough a time as Jan and Peter have wrapping their heads around this little lesson, it's nothing compared to the aftershocks felt once Peter discovers that his Julie and Jan have fallen for each other. More than pie-in-the-sky politics, it's over love and friendship that the real battles in The Edukators are fought, and the ones that leave the most lasting lessons for its participants.

Weingartner's aesthetic throughout The Edukators is pitched somewhere between the formal simplicity of the Dogma school and the noisier, slicker demands of the thriller genre. Unfortunately, the writer-director can't settle on either and, as a result, his movie isn't suspenseful enough for a thriller and neither incisive nor pointed enough for a social drama. The performers are all committed and spot-on -- Brühl (best known from 2003's Good bye, Lenin!) especially gives off an unhinged energy that's quite endearing -- but they're all underserved by a story that's too sweet-natured and, at 126 minutes, too desultory for its own good. Weingartner has stated that he wanted to counter the notion, popularized in the German cinema of the 1970s, that only bleak endings make for "realistic" stories. While his story certainly isn't bleak, it also misses the point that '70s filmmakers understood -- Hal Ashby and Fassbinder, most notably -- that, for any substantial social change to take place, one must pay a heavy personal price.

Aka Die Fetten Jahre sind vorbei.



The Edukators

Facts and Figures

Run time: 127 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 25th November 2004

Distributed by: IFC Films

Production compaines: Y3 Film, Coop 99, Südwestrundfunk, Arte

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 69%
Fresh: 52 Rotten: 23

IMDB: 7.6 / 10

Cast & Crew

Starring: as Jan, as Jule, as Peter, Burghart Klaußner as Justus Hardenberg, Peer Martiny as Villenbesitzer, Petra Zieser as Villenbesitzerin, Laura Schmidt as Tochter, Sebastian Butz as Sohn, Oliver Bröcker as Globalisierungsgegner, as Vermieter, Claudio Caiolo as Paolo, Bernhard Bettermann as Jules Chef

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