Why do revolutions so rarely stay simple, why do complications always seem to arise around a perfectly pure vision? 2004's The Edukators (Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei) tries very hard to whittle things down to a cast of characters with pure lives and goals so it can tell a story about how they're suddenly challenged by unexpected nuance. The film's failure to account for many important issues weakens it considerably but the latter portion of the film has some surprisingly nice moments of character struggle despite being hampered by a shallow love triangle subplot.
Daniel Bruhl plays Jan, a fiery activist who battles the wickedness of capitalism at every opportunity. It's easy enough to root for him because the capitalism presented by the film is an especially insubstantial straw man. All rich people and bosses are assholes from the proprietor of a restaurant, to the wealthy customers, to a landlord with an itchy eviction finger, to a couple guys bullying an old man on the bus for not having a ticket.
It's never explained how Jan pays his own expenses and he has a lot. He and his roommate, Peter (Stipe Erceg), whose income is also left unexplained, have a secret life as infamous pranksters known as "The Edukators." Using a van outfitted with sophisticated surveillance equipment, they monitor and break into the mansions of rich people who are on vacation. They never steal anything but just rearrange the furniture and leave notes that say things like, "You have too much money," or "The days of plenty are over."
They live happily and comfortably until Peter's beautiful girlfriend, Jule (Julia Jentsch), enters the picture. While Peter's in Barcelona (don't ask me how or why), Jan helps Jule pack up her apartment she's been suddenly evicted from, and he learns she has a particularly cruel rich guy in her life. Years ago, she'd accidentally rear-ended a Mercedes and she's been struggling to pay a debt of 100,000 euros ever since. Her life is being ruined over what Jan correctly guesses is chump change to the owner of the Mercedes. When Jan lets her in on his and Peter's escapades as the Edukators, Jule rashly lures Jan into targeting the house of her Mercedes owning tormentor without proper preparation. Things predictably go south and, in the best section of the film, Peter, Jan, and Jule are forced to kidnap the rich guy, Hardenberg (Burghart Klaußner), and hide out in a fabulous cabin in the Austrian Alps belonging to Jule's uncle.
Wait, what? Jule has a cabin she can go to whenever she likes? Who is this uncle? For that matter, who are the parents of any of these kids, presumably the source of their funds? Well, the film gets more interesting when Hardenberg takes surprisingly well to being kidnapped. Apparently he didn't know about the financial stranglehold he had on Jule--his lawyer was handling it--and, moreover, he was a Socialist hippy in his youth. He was part of a commune Peter and Jan know and admire.
The combination of the beautiful scenery, the always welcome use of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" on the soundtrack, and a moment where Jan and Peter are finally forced so confront some possible complexity, make this section of the film really effective. Unfortunately, way too much time is spent in Peter finding out Jan and Jule are sleeping together though this, too, points to how pure visions can stumble on unexamined issues.
Another important thing we never learn--what is the source of Hardenberg's wealth? He says he works fourteen hours a day but at what? Of course, if we were told, then his occupation would inevitably become part of the conversation.
Mostly the film presents a very thin approximation of an argument but Bruhl is good as always and Jule is beautiful and very endearing in her struggles with landlords and bosses.
Twitter Sonnet #1146
Returning voices speak a language new.
A missing tick became the timing late.
From pink and red the sun progressed to blue.
The hill's a resting gator jaw or gate.
A pickle dominates the final dish.
To overtime, the games perforce extend.
A waiting chest of moths've made a wish.
From metal ceilings dancers now descend.
The paint begins to chip beneath the sand.
The air adopts the dust to make a cloud.
A message played within a static band.
A heart begins to beat beneath a shroud.
A simple target takes a tiny train.
From bubble gum attempts to flee are vain.