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August 8, 2005

The Edukators

Hans Weingartner's The Edukators (IMDB) focuses on three young activists who engage in various forms of resistance against global capitalism. The film opens during a protest at a sporting goods store, with the activists alerting customers to the sweatshop labor that went into producing the shoes. The handheld camera during this opening sequence effectively captures the urgency of their quest, but given the power of the police, media, and corporations, their actions seem offer only a temporary disruption in the flow of corporate profits. But after this opening sequence, the film narrows its focus to the three activists, Jule (Julia Jentsch), Jan (Daniel Brühl, of Godbye, Lenin), and Peter (Stipe Erceg), developing what I found to be an intellectually compelling and emotionally moving reflection on political commitments.

After this opening sequence, we learn that Jan and Peter engage in various Situationist activities, "educating" Berlin's wealthy elite by breaking into their homes and rearranging their furniture (a stereo in the refrigerator, piling chairs in the living room floor), but never stealing anything. They leave cryptic notes in the homes, stating, "Your Days of Plenty are Numbered." Jule, evicted from her apartment due to her debts incurred when she crashed into the Mercedes of a wealthy businessman, Hardenburg, moves in with Peter (her boyfriend at the time). Jule then becomes initiated into these activities with Jan while Peter is away in Barcelona (merely a convenient plot point), and Jule and Jan eventually break into Hardenburg's home to "educate" him; however, Hardenburg returns to the house while they are still there, recognizes Jule, and the three activists suddenly find themselves with no alternative but to take the businessman hostage. This set-up reminded me, as it did The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw, of Michael Haneke's more chilling, Funny Games.

The "hostage" segments of the film build nicely from this earlier material. Hardenburg is patient and charming with his captors and reveals--at a strategic moment--that he had once been an activist, a leader in the German Students for a Democratic Society. This revelation sets up a dialogue between the film's four central characters, as Hardenbug warns that the young activists will eventually tire and seek the security that might even lead them to vote conservative. He even cites the classic cliche about politics and youth: "Under 30 and not liberal, no heart; over 30 and still liberal, no brain." Meanwhile, he also seeks to exploit the developing love triangle, as Jule and Jan gradually fall in love, despite their loyalty to Peter.

But unlike Jesica Winter, the Village Voice reviewer, I don't think The Edukators endorses Hardenburg's conventional, bourgeois position. Given Hardenburg's exploitation of Jule (he could have forgiven her debt after the accident), and given the film's identification with Jule, Jan, and Peter, it seems unlikely that the film would endorse his position. Winter is right to connect The Edukators to the spirit (and plot) of Truffaut's Jules and Jim, but I was also reminded of Bonnie and Clyde, Bertolucci's The Dreamers, a film I've gradually come to appreciate after some initial misgivings (A.O. Scott also emphasizes the film's '60s cinephilia, although I disagree with him sharply about the film's final shot).

The Edukators is, by no means, blind about the possibilities for political revolution. In fact, unlike Ekkehard Knörer, the Jump Cut reviewer, I read the film's narrative uncertainty as a sign of today's complicated political moment. The film is also well aware of the limits of nostalgia for the revolutions of the 1960s, and yet the film still managed to make me feel energized by the political passion of its central characters, particulalry during the final sequence in what Knörer calls the film's "Utopian moment."

Posted by chuck at August 8, 2005 6:05 PM

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I too thought the Edukators good. It makes one consider the kind of commitment that goes into real revolutions while at the same time showing how crazy it can be to actually act upon them. It does provide food for thought in an entertaining way.

Posted by: Matt at August 9, 2005 11:58 PM

I certainly liked the film and was a little surprised to see how much it had been criticized.

Posted by: Chuck [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 10, 2005 10:24 AM

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