When the symbols of political counterculture are sold at Urban Outfitters and 60s activists now work for corporate middle management, just how does a modern day revolutionary get taken seriously? Such is the dilemma for Jan (Daniel Brühl), Peter (Stipe Erceg) and Jule (Julia Jentsch), three young would-be rebels in Hans Weingartners well-intentioned but hopelessly didactic film, The Edukators.
Set in Berlin, Jan and Peter launch nighttime commando missions into enemy territory (i.e. the suburbs). Breaking into mansions of the vacationing rich, they rearrange their furniture and leave notes that read: You have too much money or Your days of plenty are numbered. Their goal is to strike some good ol fear into the heart of the unfeeling modern aristocracy.
When Peter leaves town, Jan volunteers to help his girlfriend, Jule, repaint her apartment. Of course, the two become attracted to one another and it isnt long before hes involved her in his anti-establishment raids on wealthy villas. Complications ensue when they impulsively decide to vandalize the home of Hardenberg (Burghart Klaussner), a wealthy executive whos wronged Jule. When he returns unexpectedly and walks in on the trio, theyre forced to kidnap him and retreat to a mountain cabin where the inevitable life lessons about the costs of capitalism, dissident behavior and free love are learned.
There are some interesting and important issues on hand, but Weingartner cant decide what kind of story he wants to tell. Far too earnest and one-note to excel as social drama and too rambling and amiable to offer any real suspense, the movie lacks both visceral and intellectual impact.
Thats not to say it should be completely dismissed, however. Weingartner is good at winning our affection for his characters and their sloppy idealism. The gifted cast is appealing and attractive, infusing the story with an endearing vigor. Bruhl has a scruffy charm that expands upon the clean-scrubbed persona he displayed in Ladies In Lavender and Goodbye, Lenin! Erceg balances his charisma with a hint of menace. Best of all is paunchy Klaussner as the SDS radical turned corporate fat cat. With his inscrutable smirks and sympathetic gestures, he masterfully conveys the tired wisdom of a man who has sold out his ideals.
By depicting political anarchy as airy and consequence-free, The Edukators undermines itself and ultimately begs for something meatier. The film needs a director like Lars von Trier (Dancer In The Dark, Dogville) or Michael Haneke (The Piano Teacher) to give it a sense of the unpredictable or irreverent. Weingartner comes close to redeeming himself with a surprisingly cynical twist at the end, but without any real personal cost, its too little too late.
In German with English subtitles. Showing at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111).
Jeff Meyers writes about film for MetroTimes. Send comments to [email protected].