REVIEW by Willard Manus
Radicalism did not die in the 60s, at not least in Germany. On the Left there are still people--most of them young--who want to do battle with capitalism and the corporate state. The controversial way some of them go about it is the subject of THE EDUKATORS, a socially-conscious, bitter-sweet comedy directed by Hans Weingartner and written by Weingartner & Katharina Held. Starring is the Johnny Depp of Germany, Daniel Bruhl, whose recent performances in Goodbye, Lenin and Ladies in Lavender mark him as one of the most promising young actors working in cinema today.
Bruhl plays Jan, a scruffy beatnik who spends most of his time plotting revenge against the rich and powerful in Berlin, especially those who live in ostentatious villas replete with fleets of cars, heated swimming pools and manicured lawns. Jan and his sidekick Peter (the Croatian actor, Stipe Erceg) delight in breaking into these mansions and trashing them, leaving behind an ominous warning: "Your days of plenty are numbered."
Jan and Peter, though, do not steal or commit violence. Their vandalism is srictly a symbolic act of protest meant to sow fear in the hearts of the bourgoisie, make them think twice about the way they live.
Peter has a girlfriend, Jule (Julia Jentsch, a wellknown theater actress) who falls victim to the kind of capitalist exploitation and cold-heartedness they despise so much. While driving her ancient VW Golf (with an expired license and no insurance) she rear-ends a Mercedes belonging to a millionaire businessmen. Despite the fact that she's broke, behind on her rent
and an obvious loser, the fatcat sticks her with a huge bill for the repair of his car. As a result she goes into debt, loses her apartment and is forced to move in with Peter and Jan.
Radicalized, she begs to become one of The Edukators, which is what Jan and Peter jocularly call themselves. Her chance comes when Peter goes off on vacation and Jan takes her on one of his midnight rambles. While scouting targets in an upscale neighborhood, she spots the mansion of her rich tormentor and talks Jan into raiding the place.
What ensues is a comedy of errors whose climax is reached when the businessman, Hardenberg (Burghart Klaussner), unexpectedly returns home and confronts them. The ultra-moral Edukators are now faced with a dilemma: kidnapping was a 60s radical stratagem which they have always rejected. Do no harm to another human is one of their precepts. But if they simply try and flee, he will sic the cops on them.
So they have to snatch the heavyset, 55-year-old and take him to an isolated mountain cottage belonging to one of Jan's distant relatives. Then comes the most interesting and complex part of the movie. Not only do Jule and Jan begin to fall in love, but they discover that their captive is a former 60s activist who, as he himself admits, became one of the people he used to despise.
Against their will, they begin to feel sympathy for him--and vice versa. Things get more complicated when Peter rejoins them--and must deal with what he sees as Jan and Jule's betrayal. It's quite a test for him, deciding whether friendship means more to him than his radical principles.
Thanks to the impressive performances of the four lead actors and to Weingartner's clever script and direction--the film was shot in digital, without artificial light, employing fluid camera work that allowed the actors freedom to improvise--THE EDUKATORS has much to offer. It is less a message film than a touching, rueful tale about how tough it is to try and change the world.