The kids in The Edukators are angry. Jule, a German waitress in debt to an executive whose luxury car she wrecked, keys a Mercedes she sees in her restaurant’s parking lot and calls the managers of a sweatshop-supplied footwear store “capitalist pigs.” Roommates Jan and Peter, meanwhile, prefer to break into rich Berliners’ homes and rearrange their furniture, leaving behind anonymous notes—“Your days of plenty are numbered,” say, or “You have too much money”—as well as, they hope, a sense that the residents aren’t as safe in their tony neighborhoods as they may have thought.
So these self-anointed “edukators” are full of rage, yes, but that doesn’t mean they can’t fall in love: Turns out that Hans Weingartner’s second feature is as much about changing the world as it is about stealing your best friend’s girlfriend. Julia Jentsch is the initial focus of the trio as the earthy Jule, whose 94,000-euro debt not only saps her spirit but also gets her evicted. She then moves in with Jan (Daniel Brühl) and Peter (Stipe Erceg), a Vincent Gallo– looking punk of a boyfriend who’s disdainful of wealth and all its trappings—but not so much that he won’t swipe an occasional watch from the homes he and Jan turn upside down.
The characters are grungy enough to match The Edukators’ cinéma vérité style, rendered with handheld digital video by previous Weingartner collaborator Matthias Schellenberg and My Brother the Vampire vet Daniela Knapp. Both Jentsch and Erceg convincingly inhabit their roles, but it’s Brühl who gives the strongest performance. The most idealistic of the group, Jan is both overintellectual and overemotional, spinning pie-in-the sky justifications of his and Peter’s break-ins and rushing to the aid of a homeless subway rider.
When her former landlord’s demand to immediately clean up her apartment prevents Jule from accompanying Peter on a short trip, he arranges for Jan to help her. Jan’s always been indifferent to Jule, but Peter insists his friend is “a loyal soul.” Awkwardness quickly disappears as Jule and Jan bond over music and the details of her financial predicament, which infuriates him: “If you keep working for that asshole,” he tells her, “you’ll lose faith in everything.” When Jule gets fired for covering up for a co-worker later that night, it’s Jan who comforts her with food, booze, and diatribes on the “bourgeois ethics” that keep people showing up to work on time and paying their taxes.
Feeling invigoratingly close to her, Jan tells Jule about his and Peter’s secret pastime, driving to a ritzy neighborhood and showing off their van’s surveillance cameras. Jule is intrigued—and when she realizes that they’re near the house of Hardenberg (Burghart Klaussner), the guy she owes money to, she wants in. Jan reluctantly agrees to enter the home, and they have a great time stacking furniture to the ceiling and sharing a kiss in the indoor pool. The next day, however, is sobering, as Peter returns and Jule realizes that she’s left her cell phone at the scene of the crime.
At 127 minutes, the film, scripted by Weingartner and Katharina Held, does overstay its welcome a bit, and you may roll your eyes when Jeff Buckley’s seemingly ubiquitous “Hallelujah” kicks off a melancholy montage. But these are quibbles. Overall, The Edukators is delicately balanced, managing to keep both its crime-caper and love-triangle story lines interesting. Surprisingly, the narrative really gets going after a bit of melodrama is introduced: Jan and Jule’s second break-in, to retrieve the phone, goes very wrong when Hardenberg shows up and recognizes Jule, leading to a mea culpa call to Peter and an impulsive kidnapping. The well-to-do enemy turns out to be a short, stocky, goofy man you can’t help but feel a little sorry for. Once Stockholm syndrome sets in, former hippie Hardenberg and his captors engage in discussions that mostly revolve around the axiom “Under 30 and not liberal, no heart; over 30 and still liberal, no brains.”
Amid all the conversation, ideas about free love, the uselessness of modern rebellion, television as tranquilizer, the increased incidence of mental illness, and what true happiness comprises are floated, scrutinized, and tested. That no genuine connection is made between the youthful revolutionary of yesterday and the youthful revolutionaries of today is actually something of a relief. In the end, after all the action and all the talk, no one really changes—which, despite The Edukators’ complexity, seems to be its rather simple point.
Don Johnston, the protagonist of Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers, isn’t rattled about the state of the world. Or about the fact that his lovely companion is leaving him. Or, for that matter, about an anonymous note that arrives in a pink envelope, saying that he has a nearly 19-year-old son who may show up at his doorstep any day now.
Don’s livelier neighbor and confidant, Winston (Jeffrey Wright), is sure excited about the news, though, and being a fan of detective stories, he knows just how to go about hunting down the letter’s author. He gets Don (Bill Murray) to make a list of the women he dated 20 years ago, does a little Googling, and presents Don with an itinerary that will allow him to pay each of his exes a visit. Don, apparently having nothing else to do but sit on the couch in a tracksuit, reluctantly agrees to the trip.
Broken Flowers has been widely hailed as Jarmusch’s most mainstream film to date, though it’s questionable whether the masses will have the patience for it. As quiet as the grave site of one former paramour Don visits on his journey, the script is full of the awkward, pause-ridden conversation that has been Jarmusch’s trademark ever since 1983’s Stranger Than Paradise. Otherwise, Don gets off the couch, then sits in a car. He sits in an airport, then in a plane. Then he sits in a car again. After he arrives at one of the women’s homes, he usually, surprise, sits and waits for the lady in question.
The melancholy deadpan that Murray used to such aching effect in Lost in Translation (and even, to some degree, in The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou) isn’t quite enough here. Don is more of a sleepwalker than a silent sufferer, and even when it’s hinted that he really is thrilled about the prospect of a son, his disappointment at every dead end hardly seems to crush him. Jarmusch does allow his character the occasional quip—without which his personality would be entirely nonexistent. Even if their implication is that passing time can turn even the most vivacious of men into the living dead, the frequent Don Juan comparisons are hard to buy.
The women of Broken Flowers are a bit more three-dimensional, but each, also rather unbelievably, is laden with quirks: Laura (Sharon Stone) is a bit trailer-trashy and has a gorgeous teen daughter (Alexis Dziena) who, oops, wanders in front of Don naked (and is also unironically named Lolita). Dora (Frances Conroy) is a hippie-turned-ladies-who-luncher who practically freezes around Don (though the long dinner scene with the former couple and Dora’s husband is one of the movie’s squirm-inducing best). Carmen (Jessica Lange) is an “animal communicator” and lesbian convert. And Penny (Tilda Swinton), well, she’s a hard-living redneck who doesn’t bother being polite when Don shows up at her door.
Such scenes certainly enliven Broken Flowers, but it’s never clear whether Jarmusch is making fun of these households or presenting them as lovable oddities, glimpses of the lifestyles Don might have had. The highlight of each encounter is the warmth Murray exudes when each woman first sees Don, smiling as he waits for her to recognize him, but besides Penny’s vitriol, we see little between Don and his exes to suggest a shared history. This lack of connectedness, perhaps, is the lesson of Don Johnston—the sudden late-life loneliness of someone who never got too involved. But with a script and a performance that only skim the surface, Broken Flowers never gets the audience too involved, either.CP