Sometimes, all you want is a cup of coffee. However, with it sometimes comes baggage and, hell, life itself. That’s what Niko Fischer (Tom Schilling) is finding out in Jan-Ole Gerster’s thesis film, A Coffee in Berlin (original German title: Oh Boy). Niko’s life as a slacker has finally reached its tipping point, and over the next 24 hours of his life, it’s going to get even more interesting.
Filmed in black-and-white and accompanied by a modicum of jazz score, Gerster’s lively film shows us Niko’s life as a university dropout, living off of the money his father gives him for his studies. It’s obvious that he’s not happy with the way life turned out for him – he’s spinning his wheels, looking for things to do to pass the time, giving excuses as to why he can’t meet up with people, and generally being jaded and generally non-caring. However, today is the day for him to start caring – his cash card won’t work, and he can’t get the one thing he wants: a cup of coffee.
Gerster’s low-key style matches his subject perfectly, as neither stands out nor wants to stand out. Instead, life is happening all around Niko, and he chooses not to participate. His friend Matze (Marc Hosemann) takes him to lunch, where a girl recognizes Miko – a girl who was once antagonized by him and his friends for being overweight. Julika (Friederike Kempter) – formerly known as “Roly Poly Julie” to Niko – is now gorgeous and involved with performance art. Does he want to know more about her? No. He’s content to have ran into her and to leave it at that.
Likewise, Matze takes him to a film studio, where Matze’s friend Phillip (Arnd Klawitter) is the lead actor in a film about forbidden love during World War II. Phillip offers to try to get both Matze and Niko small roles in the production, but Niko declines. Honestly, Niko doesn’t want to have much to do with anyone or anything, as he tries to maintain his minimum safe distance from being involved. One would consider him “lifeless,” but he may just find out exactly what “lifeless” truly looks like soon enough.
At 84 minutes, A Coffee in Berlin doesn’t overstay its welcome, and through each vignette of Niko’s day, we see some very absurd, odd things and behaviors. However, does it look weird because we’re seeing it through Niko’s eyes, or is this just the way the world is now and Niko’s just waking up? One could argue that as one is never truly awake until their first cup of coffee in the morning, this is how we find Niko, sleepwalking through what life has to offer instead of actually having to wake up and deal with things.
Schilling carries this film well, playing Niko with a curiously myopic disaffection. For all of the world-weariness that he tries to project, he’s still a little boy learning about the ways of the world, and Gerster captures this kind of jaded innocence well. He’s a little like a German version of Holden Caulfield, walking his way through life after having screwed up and having to deal with the many consequences of his actions. And when he finally reaches his personal apotheosis after seeing one possible outcome of his life, there’s no doubt that A Coffee in Berlin can be the most meaningful cup of coffee he’ll have ever had.
Now playing at Landmark’s E Street Cinema in Washington, DC.