The Edukators (Die Fetten Jahre Sind Vorbei)

The first German film to be accepted at Cannes for 11 years provides some serious food for revolutionary thought.

By Max Leonard

A well-heeled family enters their posh Berlin abode, monitored by the CCTV system. Little Torquil and Camilla (or their German equivalents) are the first to see there’s something wrong – all the furniture is piled up in the hall, the Bang and Olufsen’s in the Smeg and there’s a note ominously warning, ‘Your days of plenty are numbered’. It’s the work of a group of revolutionary pranksters known as ‘The Edukators’, a kind of anti-‘changing rooms’ team who gently terrorise members of the local yacht club in the name of anti-capitalist protest. ‘The Edukators’ are, in fact, Jan and Peter (Daniel Bruhl and Stipe Erceg, respectively), a pair of designer bestubbled, modishly slacker flatmates who, unbeknownst to anyone – including Peter’s girlfriend Jule (Julia Jentsch) – don unbranded balaclavas to carry out their clandestine interior design missions. Not world-changing perhaps, but they hope to frighten the rich by doing what they least expect – proclaiming the rise of an enlightened youth who won’t accept the status quo. But when Peter goes on holiday, Jule starts to fall for the quieter, more diffident Jan, and is initiated into the edukating with serious consequences. She has a grudge against Hardenburg (Burghart Klaussner), a businessman whose mercedes she totalled while driving without insurance, and owes him an amount of money it will take her a lifetime to repay in her job as a waitress – so she’s only too glad to take the opportunity for some serious sofa-in-the-pool style retribution. Surprised in his lakeside mansion when he returns home unexpectedly, they face a serious problem: Baader-Meinhof they’re not, but they can’t let him get away knowing their identity, so they are forced to bundle him into their combi van and take him off, fate uncertain, into the night.

Luckily, the anti-bourgeois have an uncle’s holiday chalet to retreat to (property is theft, but they’re only borrowing), and the second half of the film, after the taut, tense break-in, settles into a more meditative – if slightly wordy – mode, full of alpine vistas and gentle, bleached-out colours. As they begin to trust Hardenburg not to cut and run through the meadows everyone relaxes, and the prisoner even starts to enjoy himself: he can understand their youthful idealism – he was prominent in the ‘68 revolutionary movements – and seems genuinely to regret that he has gone soft and sold out. Innocence is set against experience, the young and free consorting with the object of their disdain – a middle-aged man burdened with wealth, possessions and family obligations. The odd group spend their time drinking beer and sitting round the picnic table debating consumer capitalism and the decadence of the West, but the seemingly consequence-free holiday cannot, of course, last long, particularly now that political radicalism no longer comes hand in hand with sexual freedom. As jan and jule become more and more close, the happy campers come into conflict.

The film’s carried by strong performances from all four leads: Hardenburg is portrayed in a balanced and sympathetic light and the younger trio, especially Jan, are earnest, naïve and unintentionally funny. Naïve or not, their arguments often hit home – what’s the alternative to edukating in a world where no-one listens to the young and the poor, and peaceful protest is repressed at every opportunity? Jule runs her key along a BMW in a small revolt against her rude and ungrateful customers in an early scene that shows the frustration. But it’s to the director’s credit that towards the end he steers the interest away from the politics and concentrates on the crisis between friends. the handheld camerawork is appropriately fluid and warm, and if the whole enterprise doesn’t quite escape the trap of commodifying the rebellion – this revolution’s televised, and in moody, disaffected style – it’s still thought-provoking, entertaining and vital, and the ending doesn’t disappoint.
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