How hard can it be to get “A Coffee in Berlin”? Damned near impossible, it turns out.
Niko (Tom Schilling) is a baby-faced lad of about 20, has no luck finding a
cup. And in this winning, dry and hip character comedy, he’s a bit lost.oiding
commitment to his cute girlfriend.
Thanks to multiple drunk driving incidents, he can’t drive, though that’s not
a huge problem. He lives in Berlin. Maybe that’s why the court-appointed
counselor gives him “the Idiot Test,” and insults his height, his sexuality and
assorted other physical attributes. It’s probably the only real punishment he’ll
Yeah, interrogations like this ALWAYS sound rough in the original German
(with English subtitles).
Niko has no job, dropped out of law school, something he didn’t tell his
father, who supports him.
He gives his last change to a homeless guy, only to have the ATM eat his
card. No, there is no graceful way to get that change back.
“A Coffee in Berlin” follows Niko through a long day and night in the city,
catching up with his actor-too-cool-to-ever-take-a-role pal, visiting a friend of
on the set of a World War II drama. It’s not really a compliment, telling Phillip (“That suit looks good on
you,” when he’s dressed as a Nazi.
Niko stumbles into a girl who had a crush on him in high school.
“I even tried to kill myself,” Julika (Friederike Kempter) burbles. She was
fat, then, and he didn’t know she existed. So, out of guilt, he and Matze check out her performance art theater piece.
The first running gag in Jan Ole Gerster’s austere, black and white comedy is
that Niko cannot find a cup of coffee to save his life — the espresso machine
is broken at the cafe where he goes, the movie set coffee thermos has just emptied, the
bartender has “just cleaned the machine” for the night, his dad insists he have
a drink instead of coffee when Niko shows up, at the country club, to bum more
Another gag, Niko seemingly inspires arguments almost everywhere he goes. He
is a provocation — to his dad, his girlfriend, to the subway cops who accuse
him of riding without a ticket, to the performance art director, to the once-fat
“I don’t understand people” is his mantra, but he keeps making these
connections — however clumsy.
Aside from those running gags and themes, “A Coffee in Berlin” has a
wonderful romance about it. Blame the black and white photography, write it off
to the underside of a beautiful foreign city that the movie shows us, but this
2012 film, just now clearing the festival circuit and making into American
theaters, is an engaging take on a drifting character at an age when we’re all
adrift. Speaking German, photographed in black and white and wandering Berlin,
smoking and hunting for coffee, Niko is the very definition of hipster/slacker. And
Schilling, with Gerster tossing a wide
variety of characters in a sea of uncomfortable situations at him, just owns it.