"What was subversive then, you can buy in shops today. Che Guevara T-shirts or anarchy stickers." So says one of three frustrated Generation X insurgents in Germany. Even revolutionary ideals have been "capital"-ized, and the world has been anesthetized by the saturation of corporate media. Hans Weingartner's The Edukators explores provocative questions about liberal revolt against capitalist structures, and the effect of age on ideology. What's a young rebel to do? And what happens when he's pissed out all his vinegar?
Peter (Stipe Erceg) and Jan (Daniel Brühl) are fast friends, bonded by by their secret commando missions into the enemy territory of wealthy Germany. In the dead of night, the young men break into mansions, rearrange furniture, and leave notes reading "Your Days of Plenty Are Numbered!" or "You Have Too Much Money." The outings cause only ripples, which keeps the men's discontent at a steady simmer, but when Peter goes out of town, Jan looks after Peter's girlfriend, Jule (Julia Jentsch).
Naturally, Jan begins to fall for Jule. Their attraction is physical, stoked by the activity of Jule restoring her apartment before eviction, but also philosophical. A seductive discussion of the natural highs of adrenaline and love—and overcoming fear with daring—leads to talk of revolution, though Jan is mostly gathering the nerve to dare to steal his best friend's girlfriend. In a childish effort to impress her, Jan tells Jule about The Edukators, and she convinces him to help her raid the villa of Hardenberg (Burghart Klaussner), a rich man who wronged her.
Complications ensue, forcing Jan, Jule, and Peter to retreat to a mountain cabin with Hardenberg in tow. Weingartner and co-screenwriter Katharina Held make the most of the situation as an opportunity for both close-quarters head games in the thriller mode as well as philosophical and political debate. The young players acquit themselves admirably, though Klaussner—who wears a Mona Lisa smile to keep Hardenberg's intentions in doubt—takes top honors. An all-too plausible Hollywood remake would eat its own tale in pursuit of style and visceral impact, but this Dogme-styled drama keeps its focus squarely on character.
Will Peter tolerate Jan and Jule's "free love"? Is Hardenberg awaiting an opportunity to free himself, or is Stockholm Syndrome taking hold? The Edukators can also be slippery in its attitudes, which remains one of the film's strengths until the turns of the final minutes, which suggest Weingartner—a former Berlin-squatting "angry young man"—has his own Stockholm Syndrome. A final celebration of the threesome's misguided tactics suggests that, yup, they're "good idea"s, after all. By film's end, the three have graduated to greater annoyance, but will they ever achieve more than flies in an ocean of ointment? Weingartner proves too ready simply to pat his inner rebels on their backs.