The Edukators (2004)

The following review was written by Kate Devlin

Director: Hans Weingarnter

The title in German has been translated both as “The Fat Years Are Over”, a phrase from the German Luther bible, and “Your Days of Plenty Are Numbered”. The film stars  Daniel Bruhl as Jan, Stipe Erugen as Peter, and Julia Jentsch as Jule.

Cabin where the hostage is held

This film concerns three young leftist activists living in contemporary Berlin. The character’s lives are introduced in the opening scenes showing them to be active in anti-corporate protests. For example, one scene shows activists at an anti-sweatshop protest, disrupting a shop selling high priced sneakers made by sweatshop labor.

Jule is financially “up against it,” working in a low paid job as a waitress, serving meals to wealthy customers who are often arrogant and abusive towards her. One evening at work, after an evening of abuse from both customers and her boss, Jule takes a break and chats with a male co-worker, who himself as been previously reprimanded by the boss. Unfortunately for Jule and her co-worker, this happens to be a busy time for the restaurant. When the boss sees his employees doing what he regards as “goofing off” he flies into a rage and fires both of them.

She is soon after evicted from her apartment for paying her rent late. And although this is set in Berlin in 2004, Jule’s situation is easy for contemporary young people in the US to identify with and reflects the predicament of many young people in the US; saddled with un-payable student loans and stuck in low level, dead end service sector jobs famous for abusive working conditions.

While Jule and Jan are painting, they develop a friendship. Soon after Jule ends up accompanying him in his and Peter’s van. Jan tells Julia what he and her boyfriend really do at night. Instead of posting advertising signs around Berlin they are the “Edukators”, anarchists who have gained publicity by breaking into wealthy people’s houses, rearranging furniture, and putting up signs saying, “You have too much money.” Jan explains this as their form of activism. They educate the wealthy ruling class in the dangers of having too much money and educate radicalizing youth and the working class to struggle against capitalism. Jan explains that he feels that an anti-capitalist revolution will occur in the near future.

They then break into the house of someone Jule indebted to. Jule is amazed at the lavishness of Harding’s home, a vast contrast to her and her friends squalid surroundings .She appears emotionally mixed, in this scene and though out the movie. She hates the rich, the stranglehold they have on society and the denial of opportunities to those not in the ruling class. At the same time she is adamant in her pacifist beliefs of strict non-violence and in not stealing property from Harding’s house. Jan is not as strict in these beliefs and there is a debate between the two.

A few days after the break in of Harding’s house Julia realizes she has left her cell phone there. She tells Jan. Together they plan another break in to retrieve it. It takes them quite some time to find the phone. Shortly after the phone is located Harding unexpectedly arrives home. He is seen talking on his phone to his wife explaining the details of why he ended his vacation early. Through a frantic reaction of how to act, they decide to kidnap Harding.

Most of the remainder of the film takes place at the cabin located in the Austrian Tyrol. At first Jan, Jule and Peter are hostile and mistrustful towards Harding. They are also unsure of what to do next. They seriously discuss “going for broke,” carrying out an attack on a TV tower as an anti-capitalist gesture. They have discussions about capitalism with Harding. The three young people see the capitalist system as being inherently exploitive and based on greed. Harding seems to believe in a meritocratic system in which success is the result of hard work and having creative ideas. Jule mentions how sweatshop workers in the Third World are left out of this “meritocracy” “What about their good ideas?” she asks.

The anti-capitalist points  raised by the three young  people are interesting but somewhat maddening from a more Marxist perspective. Their anti-capitalism seems to be based on moral grounds and they do not appear to have a theory of the underlying workings of capitalism or what an alternative to it may be like. The film of course was made four years before the current economic crisis and reflects a milieu which did not fully understand Marxist or other leftist economic critiques. The attitude and earnestness of the three is to be admired however.

During an early discussion Jule mentions the fact that the debt she incurred though her accident ruined her life. Harding tells the three, to the effect that, “you should have told me, we could have worked out something.” Harding’s wealth and seeming obliviousness to the situation of those less privileged and lack of social consciousness do not make him sound convincing though.

The rearranged furniture

The three anarchists and Harding very gradually warm up towards each other.  One time they begin talking after a joint is past around. Harding tells the three that he had once had similar beliefs as they do. It turns out he had been in the leadership of the German SDS (Socialist German Student Union), a 60s/70s organization somewhat more radical than the US group of the same acronym, and had been personal friends with Rudi Dutschke and other well-known activists of the German New Left. The four of them discuss leftist lore and the history of the German New Left. While the attitude of the three towards Harding is still wary, they loosen up towards him after this.

Harding describes how he gradually changed his leftist philosophy. He says “when you first buy a new car, you feel guilty. Then you find you gradually make other changes.” He describes a process of gradually fist accommodating to and then embracing capitalism as a way of life. Musing while he and Jan are chopping wood and doing outdoor tasks, Harding appears to rethink his life, saying he is sick of the corporate world and longs for a simpler life in the countryside.

Harding makes a deal to not call the police if he is released, and the activists agree. The concluding scenes show Julia, Jan, and Peter sleeping together in a large bed. Anti-terrorist police are shown clammering up the stairs. It appears that, predictably from a Marxist view that “conditions produce consciousness” that Harding, back in his comfortable home, has gone back on his promise. The film ends with an interesting twist.

Overall this is an excellent film. The conditions facing many of today’s youth, especially those in their 20s though out much of the developed world are movingly shown. The film also shows the differences and continuities between the struggles of the original New Left 60s/70s generation and those of radicalized youth today. The film reflects an anarchist viewpoint which relies more on individual anti-capitalist activism and education as methods of struggle. Most Marxists would favor activism based on helping workers increase their level of class that is moving people through struggle, of an understanding that their interests are different from that of the ruling class and those who own capital.

According to Wikipedia in 2009 a statue was stolen from convicted swindler Bernie Madoff was returned with a note that read “Bernie the Swindler, Lesson: Return stolen property to rightful owners”. It was signed “the Educators”.