Dir:Hans Weingartner. Ger-Aust. 2004. 126mins
Thefirst German film to screen in competition in Cannes in a decade, HansWeingartner's second feature The Edukators is a fresh and likable taleof youthful idealism. Boosted by a standout performance by Daniel Bruehl (oneof Europe's fastest-rising stars), vigorously shot in a hand-held style - whichmight best be described as Dogme-lite and deftly combining different genreelements, a mild political polemic and JulesAnd Jim-like love-triangle drama motifs among them - it is bound to appealto the same distributors who savoured Good Bye, Lenin!.
Jan(Bruehl), Jule (Jentsch) and Peter (Erceg) are three young, would-be radicalswho want to change the world. Jan and Peter are already taking direct action.In Situationist-style stunts, they break into the houses of wealthy families,daub graffiti on their walls and rearrange their possessions.
Aftereach raid, they leave behind a note from the 'Edukators' telling whicheverfamily whose privacy they have breached that "their days of plenty arenumbered". Jule, Peter's girlfriend, ekes out an existence as a waitress andstruggles to pay off an enormous debt incurred when she crashed her uninsuredcar into a wealthy businessman's Mercedes. Between times, the trio take part inanti-globalisation protests and try to warn shoppers that they are exploitingThird World labour. So far, so earnest.
Juleis initially suspicious of Jan, a moody, mercurial type, but when he helps herredecorate her apartment (from which she is about to be evicted), the twostrike up a rapport. Jan helps her break into the house of Herr Hardenberg(Klaussner), the businessman whose car she wrecked.
Theywreak merry havoc, but when they leave, she leaves her mobile behind. Thisnecessitates a return visit. Unfortunately, when they break in the second time,Hardenberg comes home. They cosh him on the head, kidnap him and with Peter intow head up to hide in a cabin high up in the mountains.
Likeits three wilful young protagonists, The Edukators is constantlyshifting in mood. Just occasionally, the dialogue becomes sermonising andself-conscious. In truth, the three young idealists are on the callow side.There is little of the abrasiveness or real engagement with political ideashere that you find in the work of, say, Rainer Werner Fassbinder. That, though,is partly Weingartner's point: the trio desperately want to emulate theradicalism of their 1960s forebears but the parade has gone by.
Thepivotal scene is the kidnapping. Just for a moment, the film darkens as thethree radicals are suddenly obliged to resort to real violence. Here, thenarrative threatens to stall. Weingartner has struck a relentless tempo up tillnow, but with his protagonists stuck on a mountain top, he seems to havemanoeuvred himself into a hole.
Histrick is to fill us in on the back-story of the businessman. Yes, Hardenbergmay be an overpaid capitalist with more material possessions than he knows whatto do with, but back in the heady days of 1968, he was a pot-smoking studentradical himself. He used to live in a commune and knows more about free lovethan they do. Though not very happy about being kidnapped, he thoroughlyapproves of his three abductors' idealism. They, in turn, begin to see him lessas an embodiment of capitalist corruption and more as a human being withproblems like their own.
Weingartner'sreliance on improvisation has its drawbacks - certain sequences look throwntogether on the hoof - but it also ensures that the performances have animmediacy and spontaneity about them. We are always aware that nothing too badwill befall the three would-be revolutionaries (they are too likable andclean-cut and the tone of the storytelling is too benevolent for that.)
Giventhat so little seems to be at stake, it is hard to see how Weingartner willresolve the story. However, the use of one of Jeff Buckley's most hauntingsongs and an ingenious final reel twist ensure that The Edukatorsfinishes on an affecting and upbeat note.
Prodcos: y3Film/Berlin, Coop 99/Vienna, SWR/Baden-Baden, ARTE/Strasbourg
Int'l sales: Celluloid Dreams
Prods: HansWeingartner, Antonin Svoboda
Scr: KatharinaHeld, Hans Weingartner
Cine: MatthiasSchellenberg, Daniela Knapp
Main cast: DanielBruehl, Julia Jentsch, Stipe Erceg, Burghart Klaussner