BERLIN FILM REVIEW: Dirk Lutter’s ‘The Education’

the education x650By Ray Bennett

BERLIN – German director Dirk Lutter’s “The Education” is clearly intended to be a cautionary tale that takes a bite out of large companies for the way they often mistreat their staff but it’s a toothless affair with no dramatic highlights or surprises.

Shot like a television show with bright colors and simple set-ups, it features actors with bland faces who tend to stare vacantly with no apparent thought process going on. Like several of the unfortunate employees in the story, it is not destined for a long career.

The one who gets the lesson in office politics is Jan, played by blond and inexpressive Joseph K. Bundschuh, whose chatty manner with customers catches the eye of smarmy and duplicitous boss Tobias (Stefan Rudolf, pictured with Bundschuh).

The company is run strictly on results with no personality permitted within the office. Lunch is in the cafeteria, desks must be left spotless at the end of the day, and individual laptops are locked in cases and stacked away before each employee leaves.

Jan’s overworked team leader Susanne (Dagmar Sachse) has difficulties at home and works unpaid overtime in order to keep up, but the department has fallen behind and Tobias asks Jan for information he might use to help improve matters.

Meanwhile, Jan has begun an affair with a young intern named Jenny (Anke Retzlaff) so he’s anxious for her to be hired full-time, and his mother (Anja Beatrice Kaul), a union official at the firm, has upset the bigwigs upstairs.

There is nothing tense or engaging about any of this: one thing just follows another with some strange interruptions including the occasional break for a 16-member choir to sing for the camera without explanation.

Now and then, Jan gets in his car and drives with the camera on the hood to emphasize the speed. He goes to a mall where he likes to buy a new top. Then he bites the zipper and exchanges the item for a new one, but it’s never clear why. Also without comment or follow-up, he stands naked before a mirror and shaves his public hair. If this pleases Jenny or makes her frown, we’ll never know.

The film has one startling image when Jan watches pornography at home and the cinema screen is filled suddenly with a close-up of the nether parts of a man and a woman in a busy moment of heightened excitement. It’s brief and goes by without remark, but so dull are the rest of the proceedings that it’s tempting to yell out, “Wait!”

Venue: Berlin International Film Festival, Perspektive Deutsches Kino; Cast: Joseph K. Bundschuh, Anke Retziaff, Stefan Rudolf, Dagmar Sachse, Anja Beatrice Kaul, Frank Voss; Director, screenwriter: Dirk Lutter; Director of photography: Henner Besuch; Production designer: Christiane Krumwiede; Music: Falko Brocksieper, Lars Niekisch; Costume designer: Manfred Schneider; Editor: Antonia Fenn; Producer: Titus Kreyenberg; Production: Unafilm; Sales: Media Luna New Films; Not rated; running time, 85 minutes.

This review appeared in The Hollywood Reporter.

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