A COFFEE IN BERLIN (or “Oh Boy” as it was originally titled) depicts an everything-goes-wrong absurdist tragicomic tale of a man leading such a life. Meet Niko Fischer (Tom Schilling), a young man who’s dropped out of law school, dropped out of his relationship with his girlfriend Elli (Katharina Schuttler) and as his bombastic, vile (yet correct) father points out, drops out of everything.
Over the course of a day in this beautiful, black and white depiction of modern day Berlin, we learn how lonely and aimless Niko Fischer is, paralleling the false starts of Generation Y, while also pointing out how we can all have it worse. This is SLACKER with subtitles, a soulful jazz soundtrack and a winking sense of humor.
Niko Fischer must deal with bureaucracy, failing an “idiot test” to get his driver’s license back after he was caught driving under the influence. We don’t feel sorry for him, since he deserved to lose his driving privileges, but imagine having to take a psych test from a crazy, jackass psychologist if you ever run afoul of traffic violations, and you’ll quickly empathize with Niko’s plight.
Throughout the day, Niko can’t get what is probably the easiest thing to find in any metropolitan city: a cup of coffee. But that’s precisely the point. He can’t afford one, the coffee machine is out of order, it’s being cleaned, the warmer is empty, etc. It’s a comedy of errors, just like Niko’s life.
His only friend is Matze (Marc Hosemann), an older man who quotes TAXI DRIVER, while also essentially being Niko’s taxi driver. He’s an actor, but he hasn’t ever worked, because he’s waiting for the right role, like all of us. We’re waiting for the right job, a sign, a reason to get out of bed. When Niko’s father (rightfully) demands an explanation for what his son has been doing for the past two years since dropping out of school, Niko merely responds that he’s been “thinking.” You can imagine how that goes over. It’s a testament to Jan Ole Gerster’s visionary film that I want to hit Niko with a golf club, while simultaneously knowing exactly what he means.
My generation is filled with self-absorbed over-thinkers, constantly deliberating their next move, paralyzed to inaction. Once we finally make a decision, we instantly regret it, analyzing it over and over like we’re the central character in a soapy melodrama, wishing we had taken the other fork in the road, bemoaning our existence on social media. It’s not that dire, silly or universal a problem, but that’s sometimes how it feels, and that apathetic attitude is draped over this entire film.
A COFFEE IN BERLIN is quick to point out that nobody has figured it out. Niko’s creepy mess of a neighbor plays foosball by himself, and reveals his problems to a complete stranger within moments of meeting Niko, breaking down in tears because of his wife’s cancer (but mostly because they don’t have sex anymore). “Adults” don’t have it any better.