A COFFEE IN BERLIN aka OH BOY (2012)
Running Time: 83 mins. Rating: x Stars/5 Stars
MPAA Rating: NR
Director: Jan Ole Gerster
Language: English & German w/English subtitles
Distributor: Music Box Films
Cast: Tom Schilling, Katharina Schuttler, Justus von Dohnanyi, Andreas Schroders, Katharina Hauck, Marc Hosemann, Friedrike Kempter, Arnd Klawitter
When you think of Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, its humor does not come necessarily to mind. German humor? An oxymoron. Now forward to the 21st Century and you will discover German movies that are funny to the locals and whose humor travels well across the Atlantic. The New Wave style A COFFEE IN BERLIN, formerly called OH BOY, is a wry picture, done in black-and-white with a terrific jazz score reminiscent of a Woody Allen production, its dry comedy absorbed easily by those Americans with enough brains to watch indies. In fact so unusual—yet eminently accessible—is A COFFEE IN BERLIN that in a ceremony in April 2013, despite competition from the one hundred million dollar, one hundred seventy-two minutes’ CLOUD ATLAS with all the name actors brought to the set by Tom Tykwer and Lana Wachowski, A COFFEE IN BERLIN took six top prizes including those for Best Film, Actor, Screenplay and Score.
Here’s a modest indie, virtually plot-less and filmed in black-and-white as though to parody the coffee and milk that its principal character craves but cannot afford. It helps that the charming Tom Schilling performs in the lead role as Niko, a twenty-something slacker who had dropped out of law school two years earlier (without telling his rich, bill-paying dad), and spends the days wandering about Berlin meeting various and sundry people as bizarre as they are interesting. All events take place in a single day.
Schilling, who resembles James McAvoy, is a fellow who like Rod Steiger’s Sol Nazerman in THE PAWNBROKER cannot feel. He cannot relate emotionally. Writer-director Jan Ole Gerster, like THE PAWNBROKER’s Sidney Lumet, may provide a single event that could restart a cold person’s engines, and in that regard as in many others, Gerster does not disappoint.
In the morning, Niko takes leave of his girlfriend, turning aside her offer to make coffee because, he says, he has “appointments.” Soon thereafter, in his flat, he meets a neighbor who gives him a pot of his wife’s meatballs, breaking down emotionally in front of Niko because of an unhappy marriage. Niko has a conference with a psychologist who is authorized to pull Niko’s driver’s license for drunk driving. (The session is perhaps the most comic in the movie, the shrink challenging everything Niko says in his own defense.) He watches an actor friend (Arnd Klawitter) play a Nazi with a Jewish girlfriend and, while sitting with his buddy Matze (Marc Hosemann) in a cafe, runs into a slim woman (Friederike Kempter) he knew from high school who was razzed for her obesity back then. He steals from a beggar to raise the money for coffee and meets with his father at a golf course only to be told that the trust fund has ceased.
Berlin has been off the beaten tourist track for too long courtesy of the Soviet domination of the East. Now liberated, Berlin becomes the canvas on which Philipp Kirsamer trains his widescreen lenses. It’s a big city, not romantic like Paris or Prague, but it projects its inhabitants’ efficiency—trolleys running everywhere so there’s no real need for a car.
As for theme, Niko’s fate is universal. There are people like him all over the world, in rich countries and poor, young people too confused and disorganized to stay in school or get a job. But we in the audience are not asked to have contempt for the man’s laid-back attitude. He’s too charming, a fellow you would not hesitate to have a beer with, or better yet, a steaming cup of coffee.
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