126 mins, rated M, opening in cinemas on 12 May 2005.
(This review originally appeared in the NSW Law Society Journal).
The new German-Austrian film, The Edukators, set in Berlin, seems aimed
at young people, and is made in a style that young people can
apparently “relate to”. Certainly it is about young people, but it is
also a film of strong political convictions, even-handedly examined,
which makes it a rarity these days.
The Edukators opens with what looks like video surveillance footage. We
see the aftermath of an apparent burglary, but nothing has been stolen:
furniture and other items have just been rearranged. A frenetic titles
sequence follows, with words moving across a diagram of electrical
circuits – and the words are hard to read. There is a chase sequence
early on. The camera moves at breakneck speed towards a political
demonstration against trendy running shoes manufactured using child
labour. The action is speeded up so much that that it is like watching
Run Lola Run (Tom Tykwer, 1998) on amphetamines. Perhaps this is part
of what is thought to appeal to “young” people.
Hans Weingartner, the director and writer, uses hand-held digital video
camera throughout, with no artificial light (though he doesn’t profess
to be a Dogme disciple). He keeps the camera moving, often very close
to his talented young cast. Stipe Erceg plays Peter, a young, but
relaxed political activist. Julia Jentsch plays Jule, his debt-ridden
girlfriend. As we meet her she’s being evicted from her apartment for
late payment of rent. And Daniel Brühl plays Jan, a more serious
political idealist. These three eventually form a love triangle that
owes more than a little to the French New Wave film Jules et Jim
The film quickly settles down into a much more conventional format and
pacing. Weingartner moves his camera freely, but he also allows it to
rest as required. He’s a natural storyteller, and he gives us time to
get to know the characters. But this is a talky film. Weingartner wants
to engender political debate, and he does so through the mouths of his
characters – the three I’ve mentioned, plus a rich Berlin businessman
named Hardenberg (Burghart Klaussner, in a subtle and canny
performance) who becomes enmeshed in the political action of the three
younger characters. As soon as the political issues begin to be debated
between the youngsters and the older man, the film slows down
dramatically. At 126 minutes, the film seems about 20 minutes too long.
Yet the political debate is well-handled and witty – if a little
superficial. Think of it as Capitalism 101 – or Revolution for Dummies.
These would-be revolutionaries don’t let their ideals get in the way of
holidays, clubbing, drinking, smoking, and romantic entanglement.
The questions at the heart of the film are these: if young people are
(as the director would have it) natural revolutionaries, is it possible
for them to sustain revolutionary fervour as they get older? And can
they even find an appropriate means of political expression in these
modern times when Che Guevara t-shirts are a mere fashion item and
multinational corporations feature Lenin and Ho Chi Minh in their
advertising? Are we all doomed to political death by compromise –
domestically, financially and eventually idealistically?
The film ends with Jeff Buckley’s 1994 cover of Leonard Cohen’s song
Hallelujah. It is an emotionally-apt song that is popular with “young”
people. But it has been overused on the screen recently, with versions
appearing in Shrek 2 (Adamson, Asbury & Vernon, 2004), and the TV
shows The O.C. and The West Wing.
Why re-use such a song? There are two reasons I can think of: first, it
was written by a man who is now 71 years old, and second, Jeff
Buckley’s father was singer-songwriter Tim Buckley, himself a hero for
the generation that is now in its 50s. So it seems a perfect choice to
end a film that asks what happened to the revolutionaries of the 1960s.