Running Time: 127 minutes
US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15
Country: Austria, Germany
Berlin, the present. Jan (Daniel ‘Good Bye, Lenin!‘ Brühl) and Peter (Stipe Erceg) are young agitators who break into the homes of the wealthy, rearranging their furniture and leaving cryptic political slogans. Peter invites his girlfriend Jule (Julia Jentsch), also an activist, to move into the boys’ squat after she is evicted from her apartment. While Peter is away, Jule finds out about the boys’ nocturnal actions, and persuades Jan to help her break into the luxury home of Hardenberg (Burghart Klaussner) – an affluent businessman who has crippled her with debt. Returning to the scene the following night to retrieve Jule’s misplaced cellphone, Jan and Jule, who have become lovers behind Peter’s back, are interrupted by Hardenberg himself, and forced to call Peter for help. The trio abduct Hardenberg to an isolated cabin in the Austrian countryside, and try to work out their next move – but Hardenberg is no fool, and exposes their idealism to some harsh realities.
Despite having an English title with a faux-German spelling (‘The Edukators’), Hans Weingartner’s German-Austrian co-production was originally called ‘Fetten Jahre sind vorbei’ (roughly, “the best years are over”), named after one of the slogans that Jan and Peter post in the houses of their confused victims. The anarchist pranksters intend the phrase to herald a revolution that will sweep away the years of profit for the few at the expense of the many – but the title’s ambiguity reflects an irony central to the film. For Jan, Peter and Jule are all nostalgic for the ‘good years’, long since over, of the late sixties when the targets of ideologically committed protest were far easier to identify – unlike their (and our) own age, when all the values and icons of rebellion have become commercialised and commodified, and, as Jule puts it, “I can’t find anything I really want to believe in”.
Hardenberg turns out to be their worst nightmare twice over – both because he represents all the values that they despise, but, even worse, because in 1968 he was himself involved in the kind of radical activism to which all three of them so keenly aspire, so that he has now come to embody the compromise and erosion of revolutionary spirit that they fear may be their own eventual fate.
Like the best thrillers, ‘The Edukators’ derives its suspense from genuine societal tensions. Holed up together in the cabin, the four principal characters become caught up in a clash of idealism with realism, the political with the personal, and one generation with another, as they try to determine whether there is any place left in today’s world for the rebellious fervour of the sixties. Shot entirely in digital video, the film has few locations or actions, instead focussing closely on the interactions between its characters – but thanks to the engagingly naturalistic performances of the cast, the two hours of ‘The Edukators’ are never less than involving and pacy – and there is of course the satisfying, genre-bound payoff that comes in the twist ending.
The last political message left by the three young rebels is even more ambiguous and paradoxical than the first, and in the end it remains an open question just how different the three young rebels really are, or at least will be, from Hardenberg – but what they do still have, and what he has lost, is youth, and it is youth, in all its contrariness, folly and passion, that ‘The Edukators’ ultimately celebrates.
It's Got: A gang of two guys and a girl straight out of the nouvelle vague (think Jules et Jim or Bande à Part); a former sixties revolutionary who has become everything that he once opposed; a great twist and an ambivalent ending poised somewhere between youthful optimism and adult cynicism.
It Needs: More sensitive English subtitling - one German idiomatic phrase, coming at a pivotal moment in the film and denoting something like "I no longer have the moral high ground", is translated more literally (and far less meaningfully in context) as "I cant make demands".
Alternatives:Bande à Part, Save the Green Planet!, The Dreamers, The Follower
This noughties-meets-sixties activist thriller reveals that the more things change, the more they stay the same.