Friday, June 13, 2014

Movie with Abe: A Coffee in Berlin

A Coffee in Berlin
Directed by Jan Ole Gerster
Released June 13, 2014

Sometimes, a film’s title can be telling about its plot, and sometimes, it can offer absolutely no clues as to what it’s about. In the case of “A Coffee in Berlin,” which was originally titled “Oh Boy,” what’s known right off the bat is the film’s setting – Berlin – and that it has something to do with coffee. That’s not entirely helpful, but what this unknown film is turns out to be an entertaining and perfectly charming tale of a young man who isn’t even close to having his life together, stumbling around trying to get it in order without putting in all that much effort, all the while searching for a decent cup of coffee.

Tom Schilling stars as Niko Fischer, who begins his adventures in a young woman’s bed only to leave early in the morning with clear intentions of finishing off what could have been a lovely romance and cutting ties with his would-be partner completely. His next stop is at the office of an unkind evaluator who judges his ability to get his license back after a DUI, and Niko then spends much of the film wandering through Berlin trying to figure out what to do after his ATM card gets eaten and tagging along with his actor friend Matze (Marc Hosemann) to the set of a major film production. Niko also meets Julika (Friedrike Kempter), a newly thin and attractive former classmate who remembers being tormented by Niko when she was overweight and now sees him in an entirely different light.

Niko lives his life in a directionless manner, expressing moderate interest in certain activities only to inevitably decide to drop them. His father delivers a particularly scathing takedown in which he recalls the many instruments Niko wanted to play and all the lessons he paid for, only to see Niko give up on it when it no longer seemed fresh and exciting. Niko is still a likeable guy, yet his decisions don’t suggest much in the way of a greater plan or effort to achieve anything monumental. An imperfect character like him makes for a perfect focus for a fun and involving film like this.

Schilling portrays Niko as a kindhearted, disinterested protagonist who doesn’t give much and doesn’t expect much in return. Watching him suffer minor miseries one after anything proves rather pleasant and enjoyable, and he’s just the kind of hero that you don’t quite want to root for. Hosemann and Kempter complement Schilling well by infusing their characters with a different kind of non-ambition, desperate to be the best at their chosen crafts but weighed down by deeper insecurities. This cast is assisted by a superb script and a wise choice to film in black-and-white, presenting Niko’s story starkly and without much embellishment.


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