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Radical Chic 

German anarchists fight the power in The Edukators

Some political activists torch SUV dealerships and disrupt World Trade Organization summits, but the Edukators take a more conceptual approach.

Breaking into the mansions of Berlin's ruling class, they rearrange furniture, put tchotchkes in the toilet and stereos in the refrigerator, but they don't steal a thing.

They always leave a note behind.

"You have too much money" or "Your days of plenty are numbered."

The brainy break-ins are meant to instill in these plutocrats the same sense of constant fear and anxiety that shadows the poor and exploited. The scenes create an anxiety all their own as they encourage viewers to root for the Robin Hood kids while also chafing at their assault on the world of material goods and personal territory in which almost everyone has a stake.

The scenes echo Austrian director Michael Haneke's class warfare dystopias and treat a similar festering tension between a wealthy, content European upper class and its purposeful ignorance of the more brutal realities waiting outside its doors.

The Edukators are twentysomething roommates Jan (Good Bye Lenin! star Daniel Brühl) and Peter (Stipe Erceg), who spend the wee hours of the night camped out in a van casing their next hit. But they have managed to keep their revolutionary moonlighting a secret from Peter's girlfriend, Jule (Julia Jentsch).

Jan, Peter and Jule share a politicized disgust for their virtual indentured servitude to Darwinian winner-takes-all Euro-style capitalism.

Jan and Peter's avant-garde break-ins are their protest. Jule's are less dramatic. Tired of the demands and snobbery of her customers at an upscale restaurant, the frustrated, debt-plagued waitress keys a Mercedes in the restaurant parking lot.

Some of the trio's woes can seem overstated and melodramatic. Peter, Jan and Jule are, after all, a variety of Gap-ad, sexy-cool anarchists only the movies could produce, not unlike the erotic, idealistic triad of Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers or the radical chic lovers of the French New Wave.

All that full-frontal beauty can be slightly distracting; their complaints of economic exploitation can feel like Kate Moss lamenting her status as a single mother. Pretty, educated, white Westerners will always have options denied homely Third World sweatshop workers and middle-aged janitors.

But it's also true that any of us, after a string of bad luck, can feel like the entire world is conspiring against us.

The depiction of Jule's job is especially relevant in an age when so many have access to luxury and use it to play petty tyrants. Jule works in a contemporary theater of cruelty, an upscale restaurant where the servers are paid to be good-looking doormats and the clients are casually sadistic neo-rich yuppies who assert their power and sense of entitlement at every turn.

The film's justified outrage at the brutal, wasteful expressions of wealth in recklessly expensive cars, homes and restaurants is subversive. Its deserved disgust at a world that has lost its moral bearing initially places the film in the ranks of other current films about a widening gap between rich and poor -- documentaries like The Corporation, The Yes Men and Super Size Me, and fiction films like The Ballad of Jack and Rose.

But Jan and Peter's political activism threatens to turn into sloppy homicide when Jule, learning of the Edukators' identities, convinces Jan to help her commit an unscheduled break-in.

Years earlier, Jule's car collided with a wealthy man driving a Mercedes and she has spent the remaining years depressed and barely scraping by, trying to pay back the enormous debt for totaling his six-figure luxury car.

They stage an impromptu Edukators-style home invasion at the Mercedes-owner's mansion but are caught in the act when the homeowner, Hardenberg (Burghart Klaussner), returns unexpectedly.

The trio decide to kidnap Hardenberg and take him to a remote hunting lodge to decide his fate. As they pass the days debating what to do with their cocky, pink-faced capitalist, some of the film's momentum diminishes from a torrent to a trickle.

With its mixture of handheld digital video camerawork and political outrage, German director Hans Weingartner's film is instantly reminiscent of the "pure cinema," raw, naturalistic style of the Dogme films made by Lars von Trier (The Idiots) and Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration) that also rail against various ugly truths circulating beneath apparent social order. The Edukators combines the passion but also the clunky didacticism that define those films, where characters' rants against the Man often feel more like slogans lifted from Marxist samizdats than heartfelt protest.

With its idealistic leads and philosophical bent, The Edukators offers an image of youthful rebellion pleasingly different from that offered by advertisers who promise their jeans or TV shows will make them into revolutionaries.

Despite its tendency to lapse into preachiness, The Edukators is a bracing, much-needed vision of a world where ideas, equality and justice are paramount. And that alone makes it an entertainment worth paying for.

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