Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
A Coffee in Berlin: A German Slacker Needs Caffeine
used to be a pleasant place just north of Union Square called Java & Jazz,
whose closing is still lamented. Niko Fischer could use a café like that in
Berlin. While it is not clear whether he would groove to the film’s
non-diegetic jazz score, he could really use the caffeine. Instead, he
encounters some awkward personal and national history as he slacks around town
in Jan Ole Gerster’s A Coffee in Berlin (formerly known
as Oh Boy, trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
have to be relatively likable to amble aimlessly through life with relatively
few consequences. Unfortunately, Fischer’s luck might have finally run out. He
is having a slight problem with his bank card this morning. Hopefully, his old school
old man will sort it out in the afternoon. Until then, he plans to just knock
about with his unemployed actor chum.
the Spanish Inquisition, he never expected to encounter a former classmate,
especially Julika Hoffmann. She was once the overweight girl in class, whom
Fischer constantly teased—but not anyore. Despite his attraction, Fischer is hesitant
to revisit his past. Nevertheless, he reluctantly agrees to attend the opening
of her avant-garde theater whatever later that evening. Of course, that still
leaves him plenty of time to underachieve before then.
probably sounds agonizingly painful to watch, but Gerster’s up-tempo, yet laudably
understated execution goes quite a long ways. Frankly, it is not an ode to
slackerdom, but a gentle rebuke to the Facebook Generation, suggesting maybe
they should start growing up, getting jobs, and leveling their karma as best
they can. The distinctive soundtrack
from the Major Minors also works wonders. Mostly arrangements for trumpet and
rhythm section with a few piano solos tossed in, the vibe spans polite small
group swing from the Bobby Hackett bag to lyrical mute work reminiscent of
Prestige-era Miles. That’s all good and it goes with Philipp Kirsamer’s stylish
black-and-white cinematography like biscotti and a warm cup of Joe.
performances are generally good to very good, as well. In fact, Friederike Kempter
is terrific as the increasingly complicated and baggage-laden Hoffmann. Tom
Schilling does his best not to try our patience as the perpetually
irresponsible Fischer, nicely pulling off his third act tipping point. However,
Michael Gwisdek really delivers the film’s knock-out punch as a small but
pivotal character, whose significance would be spoilery to explain.
is deceptively light on its feet, ultimately
addressing Germany’s grim Twentieth Century history in ways that are
surprising, yet never feel forced. It is way better than one might expect, in
large measure because it is far less quirky and amusing than it initially
appears. It also looks and sounds great. Recommended for those who appreciate
highly idiosyncratic personal dramas, A
Coffee in Berlin opens this Friday (6/13) in New York at the Landmark
Labels: German Cinema