Friday, July 18, 2014

"A Coffee in Berlin": simple black and white film about a young man, smooth, who drifts

A Coffee in Berlin” (or “Oh Boy”), by Jan Ole Gerster, is an intentionally simple film, intended to make you feel you are really at the movies.  Shot on location in Berlin in black and white, and with a mono soundtrack, you’re left with a feeling that you’re watching this young man stumble through young adulthood.  He won’t commit himself to anything, so why should you?

Niko Fischer (Tom Schilling) takes his father’s allowance, but unbeknownst, has dropped out of college and squanders his time while living in a simple apartment.  He meets various characters, and then runs for them.  In one scene, he washes some meatballs given to him by a neighbor down the toilet. Clinically, he is apathetic. 

The actor looks attractive and young (the actor was 30), always dressed with a shirt well open at the neck with very tender skin.  You know that’s an invitation, and finally he’ll have a sexual confrontation toward the end with “the fat girl” whom he has derided.  He doesn’t really make contact with anyone or care until the end, when an old man tries to pick him up in a bar, and then collapses of a heart attack.  Niko tries to stay with him at the hospital but simply has to learn that he passed in the waiting room.

There’s a confrontation with his father on a golf course (again, in BW) in the middle of the film (after an ATM has confiscated his card, whereupon he plunders a coin box of a sleeping homeless man nearby).  I had a similar relation with my own father, who put me through college despite the earliest setback that I have covered earlier.  But I didn’t squander it.  I stayed in school.  I wanted to get farther with my music than I did.  But I didn’t hide anything.

I remember visiting Berlin in May 1969.  I took the night train East, to Krakow, to see Auschwitz the next day.  Actually, I had visited a place called the Connection Disco, that had a disturbing concentration camp exhibit downstairs.
The official site is here; the film has US distribution from Music Box. Don't confuse "Oh Boy" with "Old Boy" (a Korean film). Curiously, this film is offered free on YouTube by the producers.  
Wikipedia attribution link for rail station picture.  Second picture, mother's estate, actually in Ohio. 

I saw the film at Landmark E Street before a small audience Thursday afternoon.  Despite blocked signals, one cell phone went off, disrupting the mono sound effect.  

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