Art of Rebellion

The Edukators terrorize the rich by . . . rearranging their furniture.

The Edukators Cedar Lee Theatre
Note to Peter and Jule: One way to spoil a trip to the country -- bring along a kidnap victim.
Note to Peter and Jule: One way to spoil a trip to the country -- bring along a kidnap victim.
A rich family returns to its nice home after a vacation, but something isn't quite right. The place has been . . . burgled? No, not quite. The stereo that's missing -- it's in the fridge. The chairs have been stacked into a tower. And there's a note attached: "Your days of plenty are numbered."

It's all in a night's work for The Edukators, who turn out to be two bored young German guys (hence the "k" in their name, apparently, even though a totally different word is used in the German language) who rail against the corporatization of the world, shoplift occasionally, and express the rage of the proletariat by making wealthy people feel insecure in their homes. Beats wearing a mass-produced Che T-shirt.

Peter (Stipe Erceg) and Jan (Daniel Brühl) case the neighborhoods of the well-to-do in Jan's van. Peter, who once worked installing burglar alarms, has maintained a list of the various systems and which house has what; needless to say, he is quite capable of disabling what he once enabled. The two have never been caught, and they even make the papers sometimes.

But in the tradition of so many male-bonding movies, a woman gets involved and screws everything up. Jule (Julia Jentsch) is Peter's girlfriend, on the verge of eviction and in tremendous debt as a result of a car accident (her fault) that left her owing 94,500 Euros to a businessman named Hardenberg (Burghart Klaussner) and working several horrible customer-service jobs to pay things off. When Peter goes away for the weekend, leaving Jule alone with his roommate Jan, she finds out about their night trips and insists on doing one herself -- to Hardenberg's house. It's an exciting excursion, and the adrenaline rush puts a little illicit romance in the air. The next day, things aren't so good -- Peter has returned, unaware that his girl is now into his best friend, and Jule has somehow left her cell phone at Hardenberg's.

If you're planning to see the movie, stop reading now . . . revealing what happens next may kill the suspense of a key scene, but it's essential to mention in discussing the movie's overall themes.

Still here? Okay, so Jan and Jule, still not letting on about anything to Peter, go back to Hardenberg's house, only to have the man himself return home unexpectedly. He seems to be the complete caricature of yuppie assholery, even down to the white sweater that's tied around his neck as a fashion accessory. He reacts rather badly, to say the least, and so the two "Edukators" knock him out and tie him up, calling Peter up to beg for his help. The decision is made to kidnap Hardenberg and take him to the country, where they will figure out the next move.

The degree to which one sympathizes with the movie's protagonists may depend upon the age of the viewer; Hardenberg himself even trots out that tiresome cliché about people who are under 30 and not liberal having no heart, and people who are over 30 and liberal having no brains. Politics aside, though, viewers who work minimum-wage customer-service jobs, as Jule does, are more likely to feel her pain, while those who once did such work may look back on it as a necessary, character-building first step toward a greater goal. Unlike say, Fight Club, which featured a similar "educational" movement called Project Mayhem, director Hans Weingartner's film does not hedge its bets on the notion of whether simple-minded anarchy is any better than societal conformity -- his heart is with the Edukators, period.

The only moral ambiguity comes from Hardenberg, well-played by Klaussner (who previously played Brühl's father in Good Bye, Lenin!). He seems to be the very model of stiflingly boring capitalism, but he reveals that he was once a student radical too. Or does he? It could be a trick to make his kidnappers more sympathetic. Interestingly enough, the German version of this film has an additional scene at the end that the U.S. cut does not, which implies a different shade of meaning to Hardenberg's motives than one might otherwise conclude.

So yeah, rich people who waste money on frivolous things do kinda suck, and the world might be better if they gave more of their disposable cash to the poor. But is breaking into their houses and rearranging the furniture going to change any of that? Near the film's end, the trio come up with a more radical plan to take on the anaesthetizing effects of TV and pharmaceuticals (though they themselves get drunk and stoned all the time, an irony barely noted). Had the movie dealt with their Plan B, it would have been more thought-provoking. The thoughts raised here are mostly of a technical kind; it's all shot on handheld digital with no artificial lighting, and it looks fine, which should inspire other would-be directors who can't afford lights or tripods. Maybe some of these filmmakers will even give us an edukation.

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