Screens Informal education

Three young idealists learn about human nature the hard way in The Edukators

Pinned to the bare wall of an empty room is a note that affirms the film's parting words: "Some People Never Change." The Edukators is a lesson in how difficult, and inevitable, change can be - for an individual, a relationship, or a society. Intent on changing the world before the world changes them, two youthful friends, Jan and Peter, conduct guerrilla forays against injustice, against the vast disparities in wealth and privilege in contemporary Europe. Trained to install private security systems, one of them reapplies his skills to disconnect residential alarms. Calling themselves "the Edukators," Jan and Peter conduct clandestine nocturnal raids on the homes of the very rich, selected from the membership list of a yachting club. But instead of hauling away expensive plunder, the would-be revolutionaries merely rearrange the gaudy furniture in grotesque configurations and leave behind a written statement. "You have too much money," warns one such memento, and those who come upon it will never again feel quite as secure. Another reads: "Die Fetten Jahre sind vorbei" (Your years of plenty are coming to an end), and it serves as the original title to Austrian director Hans Weingartner's original film.

Daniel Brühl, Stipe Erceg, and Julia Jentsch portray young European idealists who quickly find themselves in over their heads in The Edukators.

The Edukators does offer echoes of characters from Dostoevsky and Godard, of untidy idealists intent on nothing less than total social transformation. In an early scene, scruffy demonstrators riot at a store selling shoes made with child labor. Two of the disaffected youths who seem to fill the streets of Berlin, Jan and Peter share an apartment, but their personalities are distinct. Intense and withdrawn, Jan smolders with inner rage, while Peter is more easygoing and gregarious. When his girlfriend, Jule, is evicted from her apartment for failure to pay rent, the Edukators are propelled into the next phase of their revolutionary program.

Because she lacked automobile insurance when she totaled a Mercedes, Jule, who dreams of being a teacher (an educator!) but toils at an unfulfilling waitressing job, now owes its owner, a middle-age industrialist named Hardenberg, almost 100,000 euros. To Jan, the fact that a pretty and intelligent woman is compelled to waste the prime of her life reimbursing a wealthy corporate executive is graphic proof of the "capitalist dictatorship" he is pledged to oppose. "Ruining a young girl's life is immoral," he insists. When Jan confides to Jule the secret escapades of the Edukators, she cajoles him into breaking into the villa of her creditor. Returning home unexpectedly, Hardenberg surprises the invaders, and the Edukators suddenly find themselves not just leftist pranksters anymore.

The Edukators (Die Fetten Jahre sind vorbei)

Dir. Hans Weingartner; writ. Katharina Held, Hans Weingartner; feat. Daniel Brühl, Julia Jentsch, Stipe Erceg, Burghart Klaussner (R)

Once Hardenberg is subdued, thrown into a van, and held captive by the three young radicals in a cabin in the majestic Tyrol, the film becomes less of a political thriller than a shrewd character study of personalities who happen to mouth ideological slogans. The cramped ménage in the mountains seethes with sexual tensions and rivalries, as well as generational misunderstandings. Daniel Brühl (who in Goodbye, Lenin! played a son so solicitous of his Marxist mother that when she awakens from a long coma he erases all disturbing traces of a unified Germany) portrays Jan as both zealous and vulnerable. Julia Jentsch's Jule and Stipe Erceg's Peter are more complicated than just the stereotype of rebels with a cause. Burghart Klaussner's Hardenberg is old enough to be their father and similar enough to be a seasoned alter ego. Does he, a symbol of all that they despise, project an image of themselves in 30 years? In 1968, Hardenberg himself led a band of free-spirited outlaw radicals, but he has since made his peace with - and his fortune from - the competitive, materialistic culture that Jan, Peter, and Jule still reject.

Some people never change. The Edukators works by pondering the mysteries of which people do and when and why. "Under 30 and not liberal - no heart," says Hardenberg, to justify the arc of his life. "Over 30 and still liberal - no brain." The film engages both the heart and the brain in a story about personal responsibility for a world in which the strong exploit the weak and the young grow old.