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Hans Weingartner: Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei / The Edukators (Germany 2004)

Review by Ekkehard Knörer


There is a message here, no doubt. Sometimes it seems to lie in "The Edukators"' topo- and geographical movements: between Prenzlauer Berg and Zehlendorf Berlin, from Berlin to the Austrian Alps, from the Alps to Spain. There is a map (we see it again and again) the story seems to aim at but this is not the map that charts the story arc - which happens to be not an arc anyway, but a strange and meandering line of back and forth movements. A movement of getting in, of staying out and of getting away without getting caught. A movement of being stuck and getting loose again. The movie very obviously does not know where it wants to go, or where it starts from or how it wants to end. However, start it does, end it does and in between there is a lot of undirected movement that takes the form of - for lack of a better word - messages.

At first sight "The Edukators" really is a message driven movie, so much so that sometimes you may ask yourself if it is a movie at all or rather an illustrated talking heads treatise on the ailments of late capitalism. These people, Peter, Jule, Jan, they suffer. It is not too obvious what they suffer from but this may be exactly what it is then: They suffer from not being able to say precisely what they so diffusely suffer from. The current state of society, capitalism, a rich asshole that keeps Jule in debt, a bossy boss in a restaurant who humiliates her. And a yearning for love, a yearning for finding a way of expressing what they do not really know they actually want to express, apart from the suffering. Peter and David, however, have found a way of expression: they break into rich people's villas (in the rich people's absence), not in order to steal but in order to produce disorder, they put the stereo into the refrigerator: stuff like that.

Then, here we go again, they leave messages: "The fat years are over" or "You have too much money", signed: The Edukators. Protest as happening in absentia of the addressees. Protest disguised as art disguised as protest - not, as the filmmakers and their protagonists seem to think, anarchy but a clandestine and very private form of pseudo-politics. Their actions do not even touch the public sphere, except for a small note in the newspaper. They do not seek the public, all they hope for is a private lesson for the rich pigs. What this film wants to (and should) be about is the relation of privacy and politics, and therefore questions of possible agency and action. In the beginning we see an aggressive protest against sweat shops, which is stopped by the police, actio interrupta. That's it for an attempt in politics.

What this film however really is about is an escape from politics into the private sphere. Not only does it very early on start to focus on a hackneyed triangular love story, it then even feeds the political impetus into this triangle and, even worse, is happy to discuss politics on this level. The story that is told is the excuse for this strategy, or, it does not matter which way you want to put it, this strategy has to produce a story just like the one "The Edukators" settles for. The three protagonists get caught during one of their break-ins, the rich guy who surprises them is, accidents will happen, the one who after a car accident keeps Jule deeply in debt and is therefore responsible for her slave labor as a waiter in a rich pig restaurant. He recognizes her, they don't know what to do with him and they decide to escape.

Seldom has a film found a story that fits its own movement in such allegorical perfection. The young protagonists get stuck in their confused will to action, and so they try to escape without having a clear plan of what should happen next. They take their hostage to a hut in the Alps. And now the movie does not - as you might still hope - turn into a nightmarish return of the repressed, but quite simply into a holiday idyll. "The Edukators" is an allegory of the idyllization of political discourse, it dreams of a phantasmagoric empowerment by escapistic private action. The action, however, is helpless and the violence that started it soon softens into a Habermas in the Alps scenario. The rich pig, it turns out, was some kind of student revolutionary in the late sixties who, as he now learns to see, has cheaply sold his ideals for a 3.4 million Euro income and a 14 hour workday that leaves no time for happiness. The four of them now discuss politics, and they blissfully channel the muddled and intellectually helpless feelgood criticism of capitalism "Attac" has come to stand for.

All this, the idyllization, the insistence on sending messages without precise content, the half-conscious criticism that lacks analytical rigour but abounds in clichéd language and thought (to which the sloppiness of the film's cinematic language perfectly corresponds), the will to action that resorts to privatist escapism, all this may be read as an uncannily accurate (or accurately uncanny) - albeit unintentional - depiction of a current state of public and political affairs. Uncanny however it is - and the film finally twists away from its Habermasian hopes in a last movement that may be read as its surprise Utopian turn. But apart from the fact that the film seems more interested in the twist than its Utopian potential, this Utopia of a return to politics itself takes the uncanny form of another escape, the uncanny form of a private idyll (the three protagonists cuddled together in bed) and even the political action takes its cue from one of the more conservative and simple-minded critics of Western civilization. "The Edukators" in the end sends a message from Neil Postman. So much for its politics.

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