"A Coffee in Berlin," which follows a law-school dropout's drolly problematic mission for the titular cup, is earning Jan Ole Gerster in his feature directorial debut comparisons to Woody Allen and Jim Jarmusch for his film's jazzy score and black-and-white cinematography.
In spite of its insufferably whimsical tendencies — exemplified by its original title, "Oh Boy" — the film may have turned out to be a deeply profound modern postscript about fascism. This isn't that far-fetched a reading at all: The film's comical yet unmistakable motif in protagonist Niko's (Tom Schilling) encounters suggest reverberations from the old regimes still haunting Germany's collective psyche. Niko runs into the fledgling actor pal Phillip Rauch (Arnd Klawitter) filming a revisionist historical drama about an SS officer harboring a Jewish lover, and the old-timer Friedrich (Michael Gwisdek), displaced 60 years earlier during World War II and now a stranger at his old haunt.
Niko embodies the aimless modern German youth not reaching full potential. During the course of one day he gets cut off financially by his self-made father (Ulrich Noethen), who represents the country's industrious past. Niko also faces a couple of scam artists posing as transit police and later a trio of thugs harassing his love interest, Julika (Friederike Kempter), further suggesting a generation that might benefit from more purpose and discipline.
Without giving away too much, Niko helps Friedrich, and director Gerster lovingly assembles a montage that finds poetry within a city with graffiti, litter, smog and unfinished construction — as if to conclude that humanity trumps order and drive.
"A Coffee in Berlin"
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes.
Playing: At Landmark's Nuart, West Los Angeles.