Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Edukators - Hans Weingartner (2004)

“Edukators” are those qualified to inculcate or educate (“die Erziehungsberechtigten”). The original German title is Die Fetten Jahre sind Vorbei  (The Time of Plenty is Over).

Weingartner's The Edukators is an ideological action-film in which leftist non-students put musty old Marxist ideas about revolution, exploitation, rich vs. poor, etc., into play. Literally. It's a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk of subversive practical and theoretical political engagement across generations. To make a film that engages the intellect as much as our emotions sounds compelling enough on paper, but the resultant film manages to encapsulate everything that makes the tendentious tedious. That it's leftist ideas being put into didactic action does not, alas, make the spectacle any less exhausting.

Breaking into an accident-victim's palatial home, our trio of social reformers rearranges furniture, throws a couch into an indoor pool, and, putting the seal on their counter-cultural zeal, make out. All in an effort to conveying to the crash-victim that his pecuniary advantage (he has won a judgment against the girl involved in the accident) exists at the expense of social equality. In an unequal world--he a well-to-do patriarch, she a struggling wage-earner--what is legally just is morally corrupt. Their protest against the social hierarchy stacked against them dovetails with a celebration of disillusioned youth’s exuberant action-ready idealism. (They are “idealists” in the same way delusional people are.) They may be full of shit, but at least they're making a statement. 

Returning later to remove all trace of their intrusion, they become unwitting victims of their own pay-back scheme when the proprietor of the house ((Burghart Klaussner as Father-figurehead of the status-quo), suddenly returns. Instead of beating, gang-raping and defecating on him as any self-respecting revolutionary would do, they abduct the establishment sell-out to an alpine wonderland in order to teach him lessons. With nature squarely on the side of disaffected youth, the enlightenment of the System-Father who betrayed the revolution gets underway.

A communal joint helps to break the tension of ideological stale-mate, revealing Old Authority to be a former colleague of Rudy Dutschke from the ’68 student-revolution's glory days. “Your idealism--that I can respect,” he tells his abductors-with-a-mission. (National-socialist revolutionaries were also idealists glorifying the authenticity of ‘resolution’ and engagement, but that's conveniently forgoten.) From the modern decisionist perspective the main thing is to be passionately engaged in something, never mind what. The resolution to act determines the merit of an individual’s authentic life, rather than which side of the political spectrum he occupies. The hollow ring of their credo--“We believe it is more original to have a cause”--attests to that, asserting a purely formal criterion of authentic selfhood. Surely not the having of a cause, but the pursuit of a worthy one is laudable. Justice, not originality is important in the moral and political realms. One has a sense of justice not a genius for it, though some make a veritable vocation of their righteous indignation.

That the youth use a word like “original” in praising engagement reminds us that they see the choice facing them cleanly polarized into the option of selling out to the “system” (becoming a drone in the colony of acquisitive producers), and doing one’s own thing (uniquely and creatively criticizing and repudiating everything one’s parents' generation represents). This division in their perception of reality may be seen as coming with the territory of adolescing youth.  It illustrates that having a clearly defined enemy is as important as having comrades in arms. Even if it turns out, in the long run, that a shared hatred is not viscous enough to bind them together. (Hatred tends to favor interpersonal (moral) entropy.)

In one point of revolutionary etiquette--free-love--these apprentice revolutionaries cannot live up to their prototypes. Their abductee helps sow the seeds of that most “stuffy” of bourgeois of passions--possessiveness. With the intrusion of proprietary jealousy, their earnest fraternity loses its sense of vocation. Seems some aspects of ‘bourgeois morality’ may just have to be put down to non-negotiable human nature. A revolution based on invidious comparison is bound to fail. Maybe capitalism isn’t equivalent to the desire to possess after all, but is a species and strategy of that striving. Though a three-way never ensues, there is a near-final image in the film suggesting a communism of the flesh. But it is a gratuitous afterthought.

The experience of their own stuffiness casts a pall over their revolutionary ardor, putting an end to their misguided project of rectification. Realizing their scheme was fueled not by class-struggle and the proletariat’s heroic attempt to deliver the down-trodden from their oppressors but by their own resentment-fueled agendas (whether the distinction is plausible lies at the heart of the revisionist reception of the ’68 generation’s “idealism”), the three call off the kidnapping, returning their victim to his mansion. He in turn pardons them, canceling the young woman’s legally adjudicated reparation for running into his car, and returns, chastened, to his life of responsibility and security. Meanwhile, we are supposed to share his regret for having failed to maintain his revolution-for-the-sake-of-revolution ardor and made his peace with the “system”--the order that has ceased to confront him as the wholly alien “other.”

The father proves their superior in his even-tempered forgiveness

bordering on the incredible. We are asked to take his lack of anger toward his captors at face value, attributing it to his residual sense of shame for abandoning his ideals--for attaining success at the “institutional” equilibrium of self-organization. The film finally shows him to have attained a kind of resignation in and through nostalgia. A transformation that vindicates the misguided abduction and attempted re-education of the father-victim while at the same time robbing his abductors of an unambiguously malevolent enemy. The question is left open as to who is qualified-to-teach whom.  

In the final sequence the three are seen in bed under a pristine white sheet. A swat team assembles ominously (the power of the state is evil), then bursts through the door in an homage to the police intrusion scene in Die Verlorene Ehe der Katarina Blume (1975). That crack-down on the Republican-Army-Faction actually happened. Alas, this assault is but a fantasy necessitated by the need to create martyrs. But the violent knock on the door turns out to be a foreign cleaning lady who's come to offer her services. The swat team appears again entering and wandering disorientatedly about a suit of empty rooms. On one of the bare walls a piece of paper declares: “Some people never change.”

My sense an hour into the film was that it should have been made in the early ‘70’s. Or done as a period piece. As usual, the Germans, eternal late-comers to artistic trends (here the cinéma-verité style as a sort of controlled anarchism negating the privileged distance between viewer and enactment), go about their film-making business with Saturnine precision. There may well be some truth to the adage that German’s don’t invent, they perfect. (Though it is least applicable to their musical and philosophical innovations.) 

I personally find the remedial politicization of all things cultural and ideological in the wake of generations of unpoliticalness (the legacy of the ’68 generation) tedious, whether as a facet of higher-education or of cinematic efforts (with notable exceptions, i.e., Herzog, Fassbinder, Schloendorf). Though they may have visited the most awfully efficient atrocities on mankind in the last century, “the” German’s are a profoundly reflective and moral people (Luther, Lessing, Kant, Goethe, Schiller, Hegel, etc.). Theater as a “moralische Anstalt” (moral institution) is the title of one of Schiller’s essays. The spirit of Goethe [Elective Afffinities] is very much alive in our generation of creatives. It is a spirit of radical reflection first, artistic spontaneity second. That makes for a certain pedantic earnestness, but also real depth. Perhaps we should be thankful that German cinema is only breezy by imitation of the French model. Which explains why I recoil when they attempt insouciance. And the reason for this may "just" come down to linguistic differences (as if there could be any more determinative of cultural-spiritual character).

It thus came as a surprise that Weingartner's film turned out to have an ideological theme of great moral earnestness as its subject. The question is, is such a purpose reconcilable with the formal demands of an abduction-thriller’s mis-en-scène. A half-century into the age of revisionism, the answer is still: yes. And yet there is a lingering reluctance to accept The Edukators as a wholly successful film on purely cinematic grounds, given that it is so laden with and explores at such length the ramifications of liberationist ideology. The film is not an allegory. Yet the intellectual conflict it emplots, the political and literal acting-out of ideological consequences and the reflectiveness of the whole approach, bring it close to the allegorical. As a consequence, the characters assume something of the function of ciphers. It struck me as more literary than cinematic.

It is somewhat perverse that one presupposition of the film’s protagonists appears to be a sort of militant egalitarianism: crimes committed by have-nots should be exonerated on the basis of their in-equality with the privileged offender. The assumption is that the haves got where they are through “exploitation”; that security is the reward for compromising one’s principles. All that really counts is the fact of resolution and spontaneous engagement. The end justifying all conceivable means. The formula of nihilism. But, as stated, political idealism is the stance of the disenfranchised who have nothing to loose by taking on the system. They are primarily defined by their adversarial stance and their marginalism.

This dilemma is the heart and soul of the youth vs. establishment polarity our youth-culture celebrates. It is a face-off between those who have established themselves and have a stake (responsibility) in the “system” and those who have not made the compromises necessary to become insiders, players, or managers of institutions, of which the family is a primary and most natural example. It is, further, a version of the difference between romantic love and marriage. The youth celebrate their engagement as an end in itself, exalting in the pure willfulness of making changes in the world, however disruptive they turn out to be. But it turns out that they are themselves, for all their desire to redeem the excluded victims of capitalist exploitation, a bunch of nihilistic hedonists accountable to no one but themselves.

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