Cinema Signal:

Goodbye, Lenin!
the DVD

. "The Edukators" (aka, "Die Fetten Jahre sind vorbei")
[Note: Because accent marks are rendered unpredictably in browsers, we have purposely removed them for this review.]

What director, co-writer Hans Weingartner and his co-writer Katharina Held prove with this film about three political activists unhappy with the German social order is that they know how to tell a story. Here they turn a small group's commitment to class rebellion into a strongly involving one when it turns personal and emotional.

A trio of youths hand out circulars of protest to whoever takes one and are ready to engage in political polemic at the turn of a "Mein Herr." The two guys are Jan and Peter (Daniel Bruhl of "Goodbye, Lenin!" and Stipe Erceg). The girl is Jule (Julia Jentsch), blond, sexy, a dish. She has a secret from the guys and they have one from her.

Hers first: ever since she back-ended a €100,000 Mercedes, she's been paying a chunk of her meager income as a waitress paying the debt. She's therefore behind on her rent, and when she informs Peter, her boyfriend that she's been evicted, he galiantly invites her to stay with him and Jan.

As for Jan and Peter, they have never let her in on their nighttime escapades to the yacht club where they find wealthy villas, scope them out until a family leaves on vacation, then break in, rearrange furniture to let the owners know that they've been there, and leave notes that they think express their socialist agenda. Things like, "Your days of plenty are numbered."

Calling themselves "The Edukators," they would be the first to admit that their message hasn't exactly caused a tide of change, but they have made some notoriety for themselves.

In a convenient but curious plot ploy with a peculiar inconsistency, Peter decides to go to Barcelona on vacation, which provides him an opportunity (for the writer) to ask Jan to look after Jule and help her repaint her apartment so that she can, at least, recover her deposit on the apartment she lost. This puts the new pair together for the first time in their friendship, and they start to relate to one another and have an antically great time. They grow close enough for Jan to disclose his nocturnal activities with Peter. Stunned by the revelation, she gets an idea when they inadvertently drive by the villa owned by Hardenberg (Burghart Klausner), the Mercedes owner--the man who has been holding her life in such a financial choke hold.

When the villa appears uninhabited, she pleads with Jan to invade it right then and there. They do, they leave, she discovers she left her cell phone behind, they return, the owner returns, sees her, they overcome and bind him and rouse Peter from sleep to come and help them figure out what to do with the hugely successful executive who represents everything they've been protesting against.

The issues the rest of the film chews on are the political system, the meanings of a hostage taking, and the triangulated relationship that was once simple and clear. It's this latter thread that suffuses what might have been a tedious and unsustainable diatribe on extreme (and impotent) desire to change society with a cuddly love story you have no difficulty identifying with. You almost don't want to leave it behind when it's over. Considering its 126 minute length, that's powerful, and what I mean about storytelling. After the surprise success of "...Lenin," due entirely to Bruhl's cute, good looks and light touch with a heavy theme, is being promoted as a rising star. Here, the ideal male love object shows that the attention he's receiving is no fluke and not undeserved. Erceg is an effective casting in that his harder qualities fit him well for the lover rejected. Jentsch comes up to all the specs of the script for her natural quality and physical desirability. Rounding it off, Klausner is suitably harried and carefully combative as old Hardenberg, a hostage with whom you can parry on political themes and keep it sensible.

But the dramatic edge this film develops comes from the engagingly conveyed discovery of mutual attraction, an idea with far greater potential for satisfaction than idealistic protest.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Stipe Erceg, Daniel Bruhl, Julia Jentsch
Education... giving and getting

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