Teaching the Bigs a Thing or Two

In the low-budget German film
In the low-budget German film "The Edukators," about two revolutionaries who wage war on the rich by rearranging their furniture, Stipe Erceg, above, plays the dimwitted Peter, whose girlfriend Jule (Julia Jentsch), left, falls in love with ringleader Jan (Daniel Bruehl). (Ifc Films Photos)

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By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 5, 2005

Consider "The Edukators" a telegram to Hollywood from Germany that reads YOU DONT NEED BIG BUDGET & CGI TO MAKE A MOVIE STOP YOU NEED GOOD ACTORS A GOOD SCRIPT & IMAGINATION STOP PLEASE STOP STOP

But of course they won't stop, as witness the feckless "Dukes of Hazzard," which is about one-tenth the movie that Hans Weingartner's "The Edukators" is and probably cost 10 times as much to produce.

The film, a kind of philosophical-political thriller (warning: it has ideas! eeek!), seems at first as if it's written by someone who's read a lot of Graham Greene, as it pursues one of Greene's favorite themes: the dangers of idealism. It's about the various twisted hells toward which all those roads paved with good intentions always lead.

In this case, two young German men who call themselves "the Edukators" are the most passive-aggressive revolutionaries on record. They despise western capitalism and its casual exploitation of all the world that isn't western capitalism; they despise democracy and its froth of "rights" masking the murders committed in its name, the poverty enforced in its name, the misery it imposes on the world in its name. They despise their own country for its pieties, for its stupid workers who refuse to get it, for the bourgeoisie that sells out for a pittance.

A campaign of guerrilla war? Er, no. What about a program of political assassination? Nein. Certainly a random bombing? No again.

What they do is . . . rearrange furniture.

Yes, it sounds like the joke about gay burglars (they break in but they don't steal, they just rearrange the furniture, only better) but it expresses a powerful idealism. Jan (Daniel Bruehl), whose stratagem it is, cannot kill, cannot hurt, cannot break, cannot be one of the world's pain merchants in any form. So he has persuaded a dimmer pal named Peter (Stipe Erceg) to join him on a campaign of what could only be called mock terror.

They break into the villas of the super-rich and perform petty acts of vandalism: Portraits, for example, go into the refrigerator, stereos in the drawer, books in the kitchen cabinets. Then they leave a note: "Your days of plenty are coming to an end -- The Edukators."

The idea, or perhaps the delusion, is to wage psy-ops -- as Jan puts it, they want to creep out the richies, fill them with a fear from the violation that is more insidious than an actual act of violence. Or maybe they lack the guts to commit violence; director Weingartner is silent on this issue; he lets us decide.

Yet the most petty of bourgeois entrapments fouls them up: love.

Peter's girlfriend, Jule (Julia Jentsch), has always found Jan somewhat weird; but Peter has to go on a trip and Jan finds himself alone with Jule and they start talking and soon enough they discover that they like each other and then they discover that they like each other a whole lot.

It turns out that Jule has a particular rich bete noire in her life, a businessman whose Mercedes S Class she's clobbered with her VW Golf, and to whom she therefore is in debt to the tune of 94,000 euros. Thus she talks Jan into making him the next target of an Edukator furniture strike. And: This time it's personal. That's the good news. The bad news: This time it's personal.

One great thing about "The Edukators" is that you never know where it's going to go. It ends up with the three young people and their hostage Hardenburg (Burghart Klaussner) in a mountain cabin discussing the future of capitalism in the Third World. The hostage does the cooking and shares a joint with the kids.

What makes the film so affecting, however, is its matter-of-fact evocation of character. Each person in the four-character cast is vivid and specific and believable. The actors never seem to be acting in the formal sense and the dialogue doesn't have a quip-driven professional-writer-shaped zing to it, which is good, not bad. The whole thing feels messy, painful, funny and believable, just like that hideous circus known as real life.

The Edukators (123 minutes, at Landmark E Street) is rated R for nudity and sexual content.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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