A good coffee, bitte!

in 14th Bratislava International Film Festival

by Dominique Martinez

Berlin, present day. A young man wakes up in bed and tries to snick out quietly, not to be noticed. But then she opens her wide eyes, stares at him and gently asks for explanations about such an early departure. He’s got a million things to do, but he’ll call her, he says… Niko is approaching his thirties and has recently dropped out of law school. He lives for the moment, oblivious to his encroaching status as an outsider until finally the day of reckoning comes and he has to confront the consequences of his inertia. His girlfriend walks away, a psychiatrist confirms his “emotional imbalance,” his father cuts off his allowance, an eccentric beautiful blond re-emerges from his past, an old man offers him a drink and, before dying, gives him some striking souvenirs from WWII. Whereas all Niko wants while wandering the streets of Berlin, is a good cup of coffee…

This black-and-white, Berlin-based tragicomedy won the FIPRESCI award at the 14th Bratislava international film festival. The decision was unanimous. Though the reasons were many and various.

The film structure is simple: a cool local road movie, evolving during one day (from morning to the next day), round and about one place (Berlin and its multiple “facets” – a building, an apartment, a bar, a coffee shop, a cinema set, a golf playground, an alternative night theatre, a hospital, the bus, the streets) and featuring one character (interacting with his girlfriend, his father, his friends, his neighbour, and a few other members of society).

As is often the case with first movies, Niko, the main character – exquisitely interpreted by Tom Schillin – is actually Jan Ole Gerster’s alter-ego, as the young director shyly explained when presenting the film. But this chilled – and a bit depressed – little man signifies much more than personal and intimate experiences. He is a sort of a modern Candide that reveals as much about his elusive status of an young adult as about the society in which he lives. It is through these details, carefully observed and subtly structured, that the plot gradually branches out into a whole series of remarkable scenes, each coloured by its own specific feeling-tone: uncomfortable when he lies to his girlfriend, ferocious when he is humiliated by the psychiatrist, threatening and then sad when he gets to know his next door neighbour, hilarious when flaunting his acting palette. Either playing a gestapo officer, or being clever and sarcastic when shooting a bad film within the film; or becoming ambivalent when bumping into this former fat school friend. Or dramatically poetic when listening to an old man blabbing about the war… The inventiveness of the dialogue allows this panorama of emotions gradually to expose and bring out all the shades between black and white. No doubt, the parti-prises secure a distance to the paintings of this particular day. With no pretension, no lecturing, no dogmatism, but straight to the point, Oh Boy invites the viewers to think over their present day and appreciate it with some grain of salt. And a heftier one of good cinema.

Edited by Christina Stojanova