Young German writer-director, Jan Ole Gerster's A Coffee in Berlin (Oh, Boy in German) takes us on a provocative 24-hour tour of the modern, sophisticated city through the eyes of a Generation-Y slacker. As the day glides by, he slides into reluctant but responsible manhood. The film swept the 2013 German Oscar Awards and is in U.S. release now through Music Box Films (see below).
Niko (Tom Schilling – who bears an unnerving resemblance to the ebullient Bronson Pinchot), law school dropout, lackadaisical boyfriend and alienated son of a prosperous business executive, drifts aimlessly through his usual day, trying to simply get a cup of coffee. Stops include a coffeehouse, a movie set, a performance art theatre, his dad’s golf club and a bar. By day’s end, however, passivity is not only no longer an option, but a personal history that demands attention.
Nico’s fed up girlfriend throws him out; his father cuts off his allowance; an officious psychiatrist labels him 'emotional imbalanced' - instead of returning his driving license, and he runs into an ex-classmate (Friederike Kempter) who reminds him of how he once unknowingly led to her torment as a former chubby girl by unthinkingly dubbing her “Roly Poly Julika.” Now a sleek, forced party girl, she wants retribution but doesn’t know quite what.
So we know that Nico was once a force to be reckoned with and attractive to the girls. And we learn that Nico was a star athlete in the scene with his father, (Ulrich Noethen, perfectly grim and full of unfulfilled expectations).
A reality jolt does not come as a surprise. Nico’s own thoughts about how he has distanced himself from life bubble near the surface. He visits a commercial film set with his actor pal. Their jovial actor friend melodramatically plays a Nazi officer who hides his Jewish girlfriend during the war. She is thrilled at war’s end that “they now can be free.” He superficially reminds her that it is only she who can be free; he will be forever hunted.
The day ends with a drink at a local bar and an old man telling Nico about his childhood Kristalnacht memory. It has such a serious impact on Nico, that after the old man injures himself, Nico cares for him. And in doing so, there is redemption and the start of his engaged life. Although the story may also come to haunt Nico, he is able to start the next day with a fresh cup of coffee.
Shot in stunning black and white by Philipp Kirsamer, Berlin becomes another character in A Coffee in Berlin. The film is a reminder that beautiful Berlin’s history lives in those who lived through the war, and in its residents’ collective memory.
Berlin represented the best and worst of those times and so holds all the conflicts inherent in this as well: the Nazi brutality to minorities in “Kristelnacht” and culturally was the city that culturally waivered against such brutality (Cabaret). Oh, Boy, as the title reads in German.
Billed as a “dramedy,” A Coffee in Berlin’s most upbeat element about is its Dixieland jazzy soundtrack by Cherilyn MacNeil and the Major Minors. Itbuoy up our hero on his frenetic journey around town.
Niko’s story is more melancholy than director Francois Truffaut's autobiographical French New Wave series of Antoine Doinel that began with “400 Blows.” Even with the last scene of Antoine, backed helplessly into the ocean, searing into every viewer’s memory, it is Antoine’s insouciance, his charm, his ability to engage everyone around him that allows him to rise above all circumstances even through his drab adulthood.
Other film comparisons are with the eccentric and intense British films, Oh, Lucky Boy and Clockwork Orange. Only these astonishing characters are charismatic and bigger-than-life. We watch them. In A Coffee in Berlin we watch the events along with Nico.
Still, like the French and British characters, Nico is alienated from his family. His father chillingly views their history as “from the time your mother squeezed you out” and will end now that Nico dropped out of law school.
Jan Ole Gerster joins the ranks of such brilliant young contemporary directors as Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck, who brought us The Lives of Others (best Foreign Film Oscar for Germany) and Pawel Pawlikowski of Poland, whose film, Ida, is in release now. Their view is so inspired and elegant, and their films are so enticing on so many levels they invite viewing over and over again.
Music Box Films currently presents A Coffee in Berlin in Los Angeles/Orange County at Regency South Coast Village in Santa Ana, and at Laemmle's Music Hall in Beverly Hills. Watch the trailer at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=oMwUSipMzFA
Winner of over 20 International Film Awards, including the European Film Awards 2013 - Discovery Award.