It must be tough to feel that you’ve been born after your time. Certainly it is for Jan (Daniel Bruhl), Peter (Stipe Erceg) and Julie (Julia Jentsch), three would-be leftist revolutionaries in contemporary Berlin. They’d prefer to have lived during the heady sixties or seventies, when change was in the air and radical movements made great, often violent, statements. Unfortunately, in today’s world the three can muster only ineffectual demonstrations against capitalist cruelty, meaningless gestures like sidewalk harangues that nobody listens to–or roommates Jan and Peter’s habit of breaking into rich people’s houses, rearranging the furniture and leaving behind notes telling the occupants that they have too much money and their prosperity won’t last, missives that they sign “The Edukators.”
That all changes one day when Peter, who’s Julie’s fellow, is out of town on a Spanish holiday and his best friend and his girl get to know one another for the first time. As part of their frolic Jan decides to reveal the boys’ nocturnal pastime to Julie, and she suggests that they case the house of the man who’s ruined her life by putting her in deep debt over a car accident–a rich fellow named Hardenberg (Burghart Klaussner). When they find the place empty, they break in against Jan’s better judgment and trash it in the usual fashion, but they’re forced to depart quickly after setting off an alarm, and are confronted by a problem when Julie discovers the next day that she left her cell phone behind in the rush. The duo decide to break in again and retrieve it, but Hardenberg interrupts them and they take him hostage. Eventually they bring Peter into the bungled business too, and the trio haul their captive to a remote cabin in the mountains where they try to figure out what to do. It’s here that “The Edukators” sees a twist, as Hardenberg is revealed as an ex-radical himself who’s not entirely happy with his own transformation into an establishment drudge. The picture turns into a lighthearted quartet as the four debate politics but more importantly come to like and trust one another. The bump in the road occurs, of course, when Peter finds out that Jan and Julie are now an item and feels betrayed. But that’s just a temporary obstacle to what seems to be a predestined happy ending until a final turn with a cynical edge to it.
There really isn’t much substance to “The Edukators.” It could either celebrate the young trio’s hopeless radicalism or ridicule their naivete, but instead of doing either it opts for a bland middle road that portrays them as admirable idealists but also adolescent klutzes–a mixture that comes across as rather a cop-out. There’s a similar wishy-washiness in the characterization of Hardenberg, who could be either a cold-hearted manipulator or an old revolutionary brought back to his senses but becomes instead a muddled combination of the two. It’s as though Wiengartner wanted to offend nobody and so chose to play everything safe–hardly a daring cinematic maneuver. Weingartner doesn’t establish a very firm hold on things, either, letting too many scenes run on and the entire picture to clock in–quite unnecessarily–at over two hours. Still, the cast is an agreeable group, with the up-and-coming Bruhl getting the chance to look scruffier that he did in either “Good Bye, Lenin!” or “Ladies in Lavender,” Erceg exhibiting a mixture of lanky charm and slight danger, and Jentsch appropriately attractive (even if Julie does occasionally seem a bit of a twit). Perhaps best of all is Klaussner as the paunchy, older but not necessarily wiser Hardenberg. And though the picture isn’t visually glamorous, the shots of the German countryside are evocative enough.
“The Edukators” won’t really teach you much, but like many middle-of-the-road classes it’s relatively painless to sit through.