340 meters per second

Trust only movement. Life happens at the level of events, not of words. Trust movement.

&mdash Alfred Adler (1870-1937)

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Die Erziehungsberechtigten

There's something so wonderfully, functionally elegant about the capacity of the German language to absorb suffixes. The title of today's post is one of these engineered compound words: erziehungs (education); berechtigten (entitled). "Entitled to educate" is a clumsy translation--"those who claim the moral authority to educate." is much closer.

In Hans Weingartner's 2004 film Die Fetten Jahre sind vorbei, "die erziehungsberechtigten" is the name claimed by a small group of revolutionary pranksters (ontological guerillas, as Mr. Wayne would say).

As an interesting aside, the German title translates to "your days of plenty are numbered," a significant phrase within the script's context. Appropriate title. On the other hand, the English title ("The Edukators") is a clumsy, lily-livered, watered-down translation of the name the group actually claims for themselves (see above translation). Just so we're all on the same page.

Without a doubt the best movie I've seen this summer (yes, it beats out Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events), this is one of those wonderfully functional gestalts, a curious Tinkertoy romantic coming-of-age revolutionary heist story.

The script is spare, but the rhythm of the language is crisp and evocative. While far from fluent, I could pick up on enough of the original German dialogue to notice that the subtitles were sometimes ill-fitting and awkward. It's a testament to the writer that most of the wit, playfulness and layered pathos manages to come through the pale white lettering splayed across the bottom of the screen. Some reviewers have referred to a didactic tone, but I didn't feel that at all. Anyone who's ever hung out with (or identified as) a completely earnest twenty-something revolutionary will recognize the affectations of these kids as not only plausible, but completely faithful to the archetype. Some people might find this irritating anyway, but I didn't; perhaps that's a personal conceit. The film does not lecture, though the characters (occasionally) do. The difference is crucial and illustrates some the movie's power and charm.

Shot as cinéma vérité and avoiding long shots, the movie maintains an intimate feel throughout, even during a sequence set in the great outdoors amidst the Alps. The characters' youth is cast on a fulcrum, teeter-tottering between exultant power and fragility.

Daniel Brühl (Jan), Julia Jentsch (Jule), Stipe Erceg (Peter) and Burghart Klaußner (Herr Hardenberg) forged a dynamic ensemble and completely absorbed me into their world. The characters, drawn as archetypes, came alive at the deft touch of these actors. Whether it's the bonds of friendship that wax and wane throughout the movie, the politically-charged rants delivered from the heights of bridges, the scheming of the terrorized or the latent homoeroticism brewing between the two male leads, the cast delivers nuanced, multilayered performances.

If I have one complaint about this film, it's on the last point: the subdermal attraction between Jan and Peter is never really addressed in a satisfactory way, though it's hard to ignore the (barely-sub)text to their interactions. Free in so many other ways, these kids never question heteronormativity.

Actually, I have two complaints and here's the second: Jule, the female character. Although Jentsch does an amazing job with the character, she's essentially a plot device who reacts to events instead of acting; she only acts as a causative agent incidentally. In other words, her presence causes things to happen, but she does not. Am I making sense? Hope so.

It's a damned shame and what will keep me from giving this movie a perfect "10" on IMDb. It actually sucks even worse 'cause these characters are positioned as true idealists with the power, ability and will to buck The System(tm). Although Jule is written as adventurous, clever, funny, committed and daring, she's still denied true agency: decisions are made around and about her, but never by her.

Maybe I should give credit to the director for accurately demonstrating how sexism pervades the left, but my instinct is to deny him that kudo. My instinct is that he didn't think twice about chauvinism; it just didn't occur to him at all.

Like I said, a damned shame.


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