How hard can it be to get "A Coffee in Berlin"? Damned near impossible, it turns out.
Niko (Tom Schilling), 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.
He's out of bed and trying to skulk out the door when we meet him, avoiding commitment with his cute girlfriend.
Thanks to multiple drunken-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 will face.
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 Matze (Marc Hosemann), visiting a friend of Matze's on the set of a World War II drama. It's not really a compliment, telling Phillip (Arnd Klawitter), "That suit looks good on you," when he's dressed as a Nazi.
Niko then 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's 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 cash.
Another gag: Niko seemingly inspires arguments almost everywhere he goes. He is a provocation -- to his dad, his girlfriend, to the subway police who accuse him of riding without a ticket, to the performance art director, to the once-fat Julika.
"I don't understand people" is his mantra, but he keeps making these connections -- however clumsily.
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 heading into American theaters, is an engaging take on a drifting character at an age when we're all adrift.
Cast: Tom Schilling, Marc Hosemann, Friederike Kempter
Director and writer:
Jan Ole Gerster
Running time: 1 hour,