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The Edukators   B

IFC Films / Y3 Film

Year Released: 2004 (USA: 2005)
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Hans Weingartner
Writers: Katharina Held, Hans Weingartner
Cast: Daniel Brühl, Julia Jentsch, Stipe Erceg, Burghart Klaubner.

Review by Rob Vaux

The Edukators is about youth, revolution, and disillusionment, though not necessarily in that order. In fact, it fundamentally commingles those three concepts, suggesting ever-so-quietly that one cannot exist without the other two. American movies don't have the capacity for such delicacy -- nor can they easily present their characters and situations as impartially as this one does. Hand the project to a big studio and you'd get a pretentious piece of Oscar bait in which Profound Ideas are turgidly exposed and Important Lessons intermittently conveyed. But director Hans Weingartner is more interested in exploring his issue than commenting on it, which makes The Edukators a meditation instead of the qualitative statement to which so many similar films aspire.

And like many meditations, it's far too long. At 126 minutes, the pacing slows to a crawl, and the camera's eye periodically wanders as if it, too, would like to know when we're going to get to the point. Weingartner's sparse, handheld technique is decidedly old hat, providing an atmosphere indistinguishable from any of the seven billion other indie films released this decade. On the plus side, however, it also creates a sense of playfulness that eases the film past its slow points, and provides a fitting stage upon which its trio of young protagonists may dance.

The threesome are the archetypical rebels without a cause; they know the world is broken, but haven't the first idea how to fix it. The woman of the group, Jule (Julia Jentsch), keeps her anger bottled up as she works a low-paying job as a waitress. She's also saddled with extraordinary debt; after inadvertently rear-ending a rich man's Mercedes, she finds herself stuck with the bill -- to the tune of 100,000 euros. Her boyfriend Peter (Stipe Erceg) and his roommate Jan (Daniel Brühl) express their discontent more openly, though not necessarily with any more purpose. They break into the homes of the wealthy and rearrange the furniture before leaving cryptic notes saying things like, "Your days of plenty are numbered." Their acts are little more than pranks, though they do leave their victims appropriately unsettled.

The Edukators sympathizes deeply with the need for action -- any kind of action -- but neither does it excuse its characters' flaws. In the postmillennial world, where individualism has trumped community, the three have nowhere to turn with their energy. They genuinely want to make things better, and their criticism of society's class differences is well-founded (if badly dated). But at the same time, they're foolish and self-centered, making stupid decisions that eventually cost them dear. When sparks fly between Jule and Jan, the romantic triangle threatens to derail their friendship with Peter. And when they decide to prank the man whom Julia owes, their harmless, well-meaning endeavor suddenly lands them in very hot water.

In developing their dilemma, the film asks us to examine the impetus for social change -- how it is often tied up in the passions of youth, and how the very exuberance that fuels it can also lead to its destruction. The results give its characters weight and purpose, transforming The Edukators from a slow-moving soap opera into something more meaningful. Even Jule's bourgeois nemesis (Burghart Klaubner), initially painted as a snobbish stereotype, develops facets and nuances that make him as intriguing as his three would-be tormentors. He was once very much like them, only to be reshaped over time to the very consumer weasel he once despised. The interactions of the foursome -- part comedic, part romantic, part tragic -- bring out both his conscience and the trio's sense of responsibility, without the security blanket of absolutes. Weingartner retains his sense of humor as well, and ends things with a glib yet extremely clever twist that never would have occurred to a studio-controlled filmmaker. Overly contemplative and too moony at times, The Edukators still shines as a respectful take on an interesting subject -- something the multiplex could use a lot more of these days.

Review published 07.29.2005.

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