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A Coffee in Berlin (Oh Boy)

A Coffee in Berlin ("Oh Boy"/Germany)
Directed by: Jan Ole Gerster
Released on: June 13th, 2014 (USA)
Grade: 4 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

Winner of six German Film Academy Awards, including Outstanding Feature Film, Best Director and Best Actor, Jan Ole Gerster's wry indie flick about the metamorphosis a young 20-something-year-old named Niko (32-year-old Tom Schilling) and his experiences —without getting a damn cup of coffee — is just as good as his country's men's soccer team.

A college dropout without a job, Niko has been filling his life with aimlessness, lethargy and his share of citations for drinking and driving under the influence of alcohol. He just left his girlfriend, Elli (Katharina Schuttler) in Paris, his things are not unpacked in his Berlin apartment and his friends have to drag him out anywhere. Sometimes Niko makes an effort to get a cup of coffee, but that seems to be as impossible for him to achieve as anything Niko is not trying to do.

One day, through a series of events, Niko encounters various kinds of individuals — some new, some familiar. Drug dealers, drunk teenage punks, an actor playing a Nazi in a film (Arnd Klawitter), a kind grandma (Lis Bottner) protecting her drug dealing grandson (Theo Trebs), a smarmy psychologist (Andreas Schroders), and an enraged father (Ulrich Noethen) who has just found out his son's actual matriculation status. These encounters reinforce Niko's sense of alienation and ennui.

But perhaps his most significant encounter is with Julika (Friederike Kempter). At first Niko does not recognize Julika, but she sure remembers him. When they were younger, Niko used to make fun of Julie's appearance. Julika seems to have forgiven him, which only makes Niko feel worse. Her presence begins to instill a self-awareness in Niko, suggesting he is not a cool outsider, rebelling at the system by "spending his days thinking," but rather a childhood bully who has grown up to be an insignificant member of society.

To be fair and to the film's credit, Niko is a rather likable guy. He clearly has a conscience toward other outsiders, can feel the sensitivities of others, and is not afraid to get in between an aggressor and his friend.

Indeed, it is one of the strengths of the Gerster's complex, touching and humorous screenplay that the protagonist is at once sympathetic, pathetic and maybe even a little heroic at times. Niko is the kind of guy we would like to help out, but it is probably better we did not. Niko needs to find his own identity, rejecting fatalism...or that worst of all F words.

Impressively shot in black and white by Philipp Kirasmer, Berlin, Germany gets an updated look at the debris of its newest generation in terms of character, content, and concrete. History has been etched in stone, cement and Friedrich (Michael Gwisdek), a man who was there during the days when young, idle Germans like Niko were given something bloody awful to do. A fear of such a recurrence is alluded to more than once in A Coffee in Berlin (Oh Boy).