Another entry in German cinema's current fascination with an updated countercultural movement, The Edukators revolves around a trio of characters bent on showing up the rich, as well as the empty materialistic values of their society. Jule (Julia Jentsch) is a waitress, up to her neck in debt. Her boyfriend, Peter (Stipe Erceg), is a revolutionary of the most shambling sort, who teams up with buddy Jan (Daniel Brühl) to raid wealthy people's homes and mystifyingly rearrange their valued possessions, leaving notes that "The Edukators" have paid these capitalists a visit. When Jan and Jule are caught out in the mansion of industrialist Hardenberg (Burghart Klaussner), they overpower and kidnap him. This leaves them with the dilemma of what to do with him next, as well as their own burgeoning romantic feelings for one another.
This is an autobiographical work by writer-director Hans Weingartner, about young people's craving for political change without any real outlet or movement for it. It's deeply heartfelt and affecting, filmed with a nervy camera style that lends a vivid immediacy to the action. Weingartner succeeds in making you care about these scruffy, almost too principled Robin Hoods, and his film has the exhilarating frisson of youthful transgressiveness in their gleefully hostile actions. What viewer will not be able to relate on some level to the oppression Jule feels as a waitress in a high-end restaurant, populated by rich bitches who send liqueurs back if not properly served in the correct glass? And who won't share a bit in her delicious revenge (scraping the gleaming chassis of their car with the key to the apartment she is being evicted from)? It's salutary, especially for Americans, to see a younger generation on film concerned about something more than corporately climbing or obsessing over dates. At a bit over two hours, the film is, however, a tad extended: The climactic scenes in an alpine retreat have a slackness to them that is something of a letdown after the incident-packed beginning. There is also way too much expository reliance on the Leonard Cohen song "Alleluia," as if Weingartner suddenly threw up his hands and decided to let the tune do all the work for him.
Brühl is a highly attractive presence, and skillfully steers his character away from being too self-righteously off-putting. (It's nice to see him actually do something more than just lie about handsomely, as he did in Ladies in Lavender.) Jentsch is a real find-convincingly world-weary at 20, with an easy sensuality and the ability of a true actress to look alternately lovely and then haggard. Klaussner brings a welcome authority to the film, emerging as the most interestingly unpredictable character of them all.