Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 12, 2005 1:42 pm 
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Revisiting the politics of gesture

A somewhat thin but likeable film, The Edukators shows us a couple of young German guys who are reborn Seventies terrorists reduced to gesture. At night they break into rich people's houses and rearrange the furniture leaving notes telling their victims they've got too much money and had better watch out. (The Days of Plenty Are Over -- Die Fetten Jahre sind vorbei -- goes the German film title.) They also go to demos and forcibly leaflet shoe stores with warnings about child labor, but their real thrills come in the break-ins: they're hooked on the rush. One has a girlfriend who works at a snooty upscale restaurant where customers and manager are equally abusive to her.

Things get messy when the other young man, Jan (Daniel Brühl) is prodded into an impulsive break-in with his friend's girl, Jule (Julie Jentsch). He's falling for her and reveals his secret lawbreaking to impress her. She insists on entering the house because it belongs to a man she owes 94,000 Euros to for totaling his Mercedes. This gesture's unplanned and the girl's inexperienced and they have to break back in the next night to find her cell phone. The owner returns while they're there and recognizes the girl. The three young people, Jule, Jan, and Peter (Stipe Erceg) feel that now they're "blown" they must kidnap the rich guy and take him to a cabin in the mountains, which of course they immediately do.

These are young revolutionaries after the fact. There's no Bader-Meinhof, no Red Brigades, to belong to. The paradox, a rather pat one, is that the guy they kidnap, Hardenberg (Burghart Klaussner), was a Sixties and Seventies revolutionary himself, who only slowly slid into the capitalist life. Needless to say the slide turned quite successful, since he now earns over three million a year, but he claims to feel nostalgia for the old days and sympathy for his captors. Before long they're all happily playing cards and he's cooking for them and could probably escape sooner, if he weren't enjoying the forced vacation amid romantic reminders of the old days.

Things end surprisingly, but The Edukators isn't so much interested in its story as in existing as a platform for youthful critiques of capitalism and pondering the old saw -- which Hardenberg comes up with eventually, Anyone under thirty who isn't liberal has no heart; anyone over thirty who isn't conservative has no mind. The youths are exuberant and naive. Hormones are raging, so, typically, the love triangle almost takes over the politics. Their prisoner is smarter than they are, but what sustains the over-long second half is that his sympathy for his kidnappers doesn't seem fake, just as his story doesn't seem contrived. Or rather, only a little fake and a little contrived.

This is a film that musters some good suspense and adrenalin rushes at first, but starts losing them as the kidnapping wears on because it all begins to seem more about politics and the talk than about the action, though wondering how it's going to end is still what's going to keep you watching. That such a dichotomy should appear -- politics vs. action -- is an irony of the piece. If you've got sympathy for the youthful rebellion or the critiques of capitalism -- or just want to debate the issues brought up -- the movie can hold your interest. The actors are all plausible and appealing, particularly Klaussner and the young but experienced Brühl, whose sweetness and exuberance motivated the 2003 East Berlin comedy, Goodbye, Lenin. The jerky digital video comes with the territory, though it may some day become as dated as bell-bottoms. The filmmakers could have edited this down to less than two hours and four minutes and given the story harder edges. The music is loud and integral to the youthful portraits.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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