Review: A Coffee in Berlin

CoffeeDVDSTUDIO: Music Box | DIRECTOR: Jan Ole Gerster | CAST: Tom Schilling, Friederike Kempter, Marc Hosemann, Katharina Schüttler, Justus von Dohnányi, Andreas Schröders
RELEASE DATE: 10/21/14 | PRICE: DVD $29.99, Blu-ray $34.99
BONUSES: Conversation with director Jan Ole Gerster and film critic Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, music featurette, Tom Schilling improvisation, outtakes, deleted scenes, casting tapes
SPECS: NR | 88 min. | Foreign language comedy | 1.85:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1/ DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 | German with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video  | Overall

Old-­time jazz, black­-and­-white film, the small details of daily life… these are the trademarks of French New Wave Cinema. Filter them through a Woody Allen sense of humor, pour it all into a bowl of German urbanity, and you’ve pretty much got yourself Jan Ole Gerster (Oh Boy) ‘s debut feature, A Coffee In Berlin, a film that wears its influences proudly on its sleeves.

Tom Schilling ponders...and A Coffee in Berlin.

Tom Schilling ponders…and ponders…in A Coffee in Berlin.

Niko (Tom Schilling) is our protagonist, a selfish, spoiled, superficial millennial who dumps his girlfriend in a cowardly way, hasn’t told his father about dropping out of school two years ago, and really has no clue what he wants to do with himself. It’s a familiar story, and one that will speak to a wide­-eyed 20­-year­-old much more than it will a cinema­-hardened 40­-year­-old. For those of us in that bracket, it’s tough to feel any kind of sympathy for a spoiled kid who’s been given everything yet done nothing with it. Far from the disaffected Holden Caulfield the film wants to portray, Niko just proves himself to be a vapid pretty boy who’s never gone through an honest day’s work. The running gag of Niko’s fruitless search for a cup of coffee throughout his day plays like a bad wannabe Jim Jarmusch gag—kinda clever, but just a little too trite to be convincing.

With all of this in play, it may surprise you to hear that A Coffee In Berlin works. The characters that enter and exit Niko’s single day are quirky, but not contrived; they’re natural and believable, with well-­performed roles and enjoyable dialogue to munch on. No major insights or Oscar­-worthy soliloquies to be found here, but the story is well­-crafted, well­-paced, and lively, something many of these films tend to mess up. It maintains the vibe of a light Woody Allen comedy throughout, and succeeds in making the completely useless Niko a sympathetic and likeable guy—an impressive feat given my generation’s lack of patience with millennials and their self­-obsessed issues. Gerster proves his skill at letting his characters’ humanity come forth, rendering A Coffee In Berlin a miniature gem.

Music Box provides a nice DVD package. Included is a 40­-minute interview with the director, who is clearly in semi­autobiographical territory with his protagonist Niko, and who reveals some insights into his working process. A nice little piece on the jazz music recorded for the film, a screen test with one of the more memorable actors in the film, an early improvised short (done as a warm up to the feature), outtakes, and a couple of deleted scenes round out a portrait of the young cast and crew’s loose and relaxed approach to this charming little story. A Coffee In Berlin doesn’t really break new ground or inspire new thoughts, but it does remind you to enjoy the little moments while you’re pondering the big stuff.


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About Memo

Memo Salazar attempts many things and accomplishes few. His big three are making films, music, and comics, but he'll throw photography, graphic design and film criticism into the ring for good measure. He'll even make you a hand-painted t-shirt if you ask nicely. You can track his activity here when there's nothing else to do at work.