A Coffee in Berlin is a tasty Teutonic treat

by Mark Burger

Taking a page (or two) from the works of Woody Allen and Whit Stillman, writer/director Jan Ole Gerster’s award-winning A Coffee in Berlin is that age-old story of a young person shuffling through life, trying to make sense of it all.

In this case, the formula works beautifully, thanks in large part to a winning performance by Tom Schilling in the pivotal role of Niko Fischer, a college dropout wandering through the streets of the titular city. Niko may be a quintessential sad sack, but no less likable or empathetic as a result. (It wouldn’t take a stretch to imagine Zach Braff, whom Schilling resembles, or Miles Teller playing the role in an American version.)

Originally titled Oh Boy “” no kidding “” A Coffee in Berlin refers to the running joke that Niko can’t seem to lay his hands on a cup of java. This inability reflects Niko’s life in general. Bad luck and misfortune dog his every step.

As Niko shuffles through the day, the film is structured as a series of vignettes that essentially take place over a 24-hour period. A Coffee in Berlin is no wild romp but a droll and observant comedy punctuated by a light jazz score that definitely recalls Allen’s films. The film has also been shot in gorgeous black-and-white by Philipp Kirsamer (shades of Manhattan).

Schilling (also an associate producer) ably carries the narrative on his own, though there are nice contributions by Friederike Kempter as an old classmate who reconnects with Niko, Justus von Dohnányi is a desperate neighbor, and especially Marc Hosemann as Niko’s actor buddy.

A Coffee in Berlin takes a late-inning detour into melancholia that seems slightly out of place but does bring closure to the proceedings. Nevertheless, this is an easy film to identify with (subtitles or otherwise) and a very easy film to savor for its ironic humor and back-handed humanity. (In German with English subtitles)