“A sort of road movie that never leaves Berlin” is how writer-director Jan Ole Gerster, making his feature debut, has described the film, which contains a Generation Y protagonist, shades of German history and a droll, absurdist comic palette.
The black-and-white cinematography suggests Woody Allen’s “Manhattan,” the French new wave and the notion that a deeper truth or two is happening. A jazzy, upbeat soundtrack emphasizes comic aspects.
The story follows Niko Fischer (Tom Schilling), a law school dropout who sleepwalks through life, over an atypically eventful day.
His girlfriend leads things off by breaking up with him.
Interactions with colorful, and sometimes hostile, people, combined with repeated attempts to find a cup of coffee, follow.
An ill-tempered psychologist, reviewing Niko’s DUI case, proclaims Niko “emotionally unstable.”
Niko’s businessman father (Ulrich Noethen), having discovered that Niko has quit law school, cuts off Niko’s allowance.
At Niko’s new apartment, a lonely neighbor (Justus von Dohnanyi), bearing unenticing meatballs, unloads his heartache on Niko.
An outing with friend Matze (Mark Hosemann), an actor who includes “Taxi Driver” references in his dialogue, leads to an episode with Julika (Friederike Kempter) — a performance artist angry at Niko for taunting her in her “roly-poly” days.
In a bar, a guilt-plagued old man (Michael Gwisdek) recalls the events of one of the darkest nights in modern German history. The episode clinches Niko’s wake-up call.
Nothing profound or hugely original transpires, and the use of a social outcast, the broken barfly, to inspire the hero to shine is hardly new. But the movie isn’t shallow, and the moderately funny moments are sufficiently plentiful to add up to a rewarding art-house comedy.
There are jewels, such as a scene in which Niko, having discovered he’s broke, considers taking back the coins he’s placed in a sleeping beggar’s cup.
Gerster, who has cited Benjamin Braddock from “The Graduate” as a favorite fictional character, has created an aimless protagonist audiences can stick with. Schilling, whose likability is crucial, portrays him as a poetic lost soul. The climax, while not without its manipulative facets, is undeniably moving.
The film also is noteworthy as a serious exploration of Generation Y inertia and of the reverberations of the Nazi experience.
The recipient of six German Film Academy Awards, this movie may play better on its home turf, but there’s plenty here to merit a ticket.
A Coffee in Berlin ★★★
Starring Tom Schilling, Marc Hosemann, Friederike Kempter, Michael Gwisdek
Written and directed by Jan Ole Gerster
Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes