Midway through A Coffee in Berlin, Niko (Tom Schilling) breaks off a bathroom tryst with a former classmate. They're only doing it, he says, as "Vergangenheitsbewältigung." The subtitles translate the word as "coming to terms with the past," but the phrase more precisely refers to Germany's confrontation with its Nazi history. That search for historical atonement burbles throughout Jan Ole Gerster's debut feature, a black-and-white portrait of an aimless, lank-haired 20-something drifting through a day in Berlin. A law-school dropout who's just lost his girlfriend, his driver's license and access to Papa's pocketbook, Niko is perpetually foiled in his pursuit of coffee—and this guy could really use a shot of caffeine—as well as human connection. Some might see it as mere German mumblecore, but Schilling's performance is wonderfully sympathetic, and the score—lovely piano tunes, jaunty jazz—elevate the film to something dryer, wiser and far more generous.
Critic's Grade: B+
SEE IT: A Coffee in Berlin opens Friday at Living Room Theaters.