THE POLITICAL coming of age that takes place in Hans Weingartner's "The Edukators" would have been simplistic and naive in lesser hands. But the Austrian co-writer and director has created a deft, entertaining story that mixes menace with charm and satire with seriousness, as four Berliners get caught up in a desperate situation -- all because of politics.
Young roommates Jan (Daniel Bruehl) and Peter (Stipe Erceg) have idealistic and sanctimoniously inflexible attitudes about the cruel divide between the haves and have-nots. Capitalism, in their passionate view, is the world's moral blight. Being men of high purpose and vigor, they do something about this. They break into homes of the rich late at night when the owners are away and commit acts of psychological terrorism. The homeowners return to find their furniture arranged in piles and their walls covered in such graffiti as "the days of plenty are numbered." Jan and Peter sign their work with their noms de guerre, the Edukators.
The fat cats' sense of security in capitalistic Babylon will be forever unnerved, or so goes the thinking. It's a strategy that's doomed to failure, if not outright danger. We can feel something ominous coming on.
The trouble starts when Jan becomes attracted to Peter's girlfriend, Jule (Julia Jentsch), who's unaware of Jan and Peter's nighttime activities. She has moved in with Peter after being unceremoniously thrown out of her apartment for missing the rent. A waitress at an upscale restaurant, she is paying off a staggering debt. As she gets closer to Jan, she tells him her story. Her involvement in an accident with a Mercedes owner has obligated her to paying off the damages in monthly installments. With a figure of 100,000 euros hanging over her head, she's as good as indentured.
One thing leads to another. Not only does Jan carry on with Jule behind Peter's back, he also takes her with him (without Peter) on a few vandal visits. So when he learns about Jule's bondage to Mr. Hardenberg (Burghart Klaussner), not to mention his address, Jan coaxes Jule into taking appropriate revenge.
Things, of course, go wrong. Jan and Jule find themselves as unwilling captors. They put out an emergency call to Peter, who has to learn a lot of disturbing things quickly. He doesn't know, however, about the romantic liaison between Jan and Jule. Not sure what to do with Hardenberg, who's bound to blab to the cops, the three roommates drive him to a remote mountaintop cabin. But Hardenberg turns out to be more sympathetic than they had bargained for, and the businessman uses his softening effect to work his way to freedom.
Weingartner, an Austrian filmmaker, takes us through these twists and turns with precision and ease. He is purposefully leading his characters, and the audience, into full-circle dialogue with themselves. Everyone in this movie is forced to reassess themselves, morally and politically. And those changes are made all the more rewarding because of the strong performers. The fresh-faced Bruehl, who starred in "Goodbye Lenin!" and "Ladies in Lavender," is a winning presence, as is Jentsch, an actress with a sloe-eyed, languid beauty. They make their characters' mutual loss of innocence seem especially fresh and tragic.
THE EDUKATORS (R, 126 minutes) -- Contains sexual scenes, obscenity and some drug use. In German with English subtitles. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.