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.