The Edukators, 126 mins, rated M, opening in cinemas on 12 May 2005.

(This review originally appeared in the NSW Law Society Journal).

The new German-Austrian film, The Edukators, set in Berlin, seems aimed at young people, and is made in a style that young people can apparently “relate to”. Certainly it is about young people, but it is also a film of strong political convictions, even-handedly examined, which makes it a rarity these days.

The Edukators opens with what looks like video surveillance footage. We see the aftermath of an apparent burglary, but nothing has been stolen: furniture and other items have just been rearranged. A frenetic titles sequence follows, with words moving across a diagram of electrical circuits – and the words are hard to read. There is a chase sequence early on. The camera moves at breakneck speed towards a political demonstration against trendy running shoes manufactured using child labour. The action is speeded up so much that that it is like watching Run Lola Run (Tom Tykwer, 1998) on amphetamines. Perhaps this is part of what is thought to appeal to “young” people.

Hans Weingartner, the director and writer, uses hand-held digital video camera throughout, with no artificial light (though he doesn’t profess to be a Dogme disciple). He keeps the camera moving, often very close to his talented young cast. Stipe Erceg plays Peter, a young, but relaxed political activist. Julia Jentsch plays Jule, his debt-ridden girlfriend. As we meet her she’s being evicted from her apartment for late payment of rent. And Daniel Brühl plays Jan, a more serious political idealist. These three eventually form a love triangle that owes more than a little to the French New Wave film Jules et Jim (Truffaut, 1962).

The film quickly settles down into a much more conventional format and pacing. Weingartner moves his camera freely, but he also allows it to rest as required. He’s a natural storyteller, and he gives us time to get to know the characters. But this is a talky film. Weingartner wants to engender political debate, and he does so through the mouths of his characters – the three I’ve mentioned, plus a rich Berlin businessman named Hardenberg (Burghart Klaussner, in a subtle and canny performance) who becomes enmeshed in the political action of the three younger characters. As soon as the political issues begin to be debated between the youngsters and the older man, the film slows down dramatically. At 126 minutes, the film seems about 20 minutes too long. Yet the political debate is well-handled and witty – if a little superficial. Think of it as Capitalism 101 – or Revolution for Dummies. These would-be revolutionaries don’t let their ideals get in the way of holidays, clubbing, drinking, smoking, and romantic entanglement.

The questions at the heart of the film are these: if young people are (as the director would have it) natural revolutionaries, is it possible for them to sustain revolutionary fervour as they get older? And can they even find an appropriate means of political expression in these modern times when Che Guevara t-shirts are a mere fashion item and multinational corporations feature Lenin and Ho Chi Minh in their advertising? Are we all doomed to political death by compromise – domestically, financially and eventually idealistically?

The film ends with Jeff Buckley’s 1994 cover of Leonard Cohen’s song Hallelujah. It is an emotionally-apt song that is popular with “young” people. But it has been overused on the screen recently, with versions appearing in Shrek 2 (Adamson, Asbury & Vernon, 2004), and the TV shows The O.C. and The West Wing.

Why re-use such a song? There are two reasons I can think of: first, it was written by a man who is now 71 years old, and second, Jeff Buckley’s father was singer-songwriter Tim Buckley, himself a hero for the generation that is now in its 50s. So it seems a perfect choice to end a film that asks what happened to the revolutionaries of the 1960s.