With glaringly obvious riffs on the likes of Manhattan and Frances Ha, Jan Ole Gerster’s A Coffee in Berlin falls into the same few pitfalls that those two aforementioned pieces suffer from. His feature debut sees a college drop-out, Niko Fischer (Tom Schilling), wander aimlessly through life, looking for purpose. At a time in my life where I too find myself aimlessly looking for some career, hobby, or interest to latch onto, I was genuinely rather excited to watch this black and white German piece. My love for Woody Allen’s Manhattan and my lukewarm disinterest for Frances Ha had me somewhat looking forward to a film, it’s just a shame Gerster’s effort fall into the Noah Baumbach camp.
We’re meant to care for our leading character, no matter how much of a disinteresting wart he may be, a completely blank canvas that an audience member can project themselves onto, the façade falls flat instantaneously. Poetic piano keys jolt some life into the silent moments of reflection, with predictable shots of outer-train windows and self-pitying nonsense. The jaunty jazz music is the most obvious inspiration to come from Woody Allen’s Manhattan, a film I adore. With that in mind, it should’ve been rather easy to either fall in love with the stylish choices, or completely detest them. Sadly, A Coffee in Berlin falls into the latter of the two.
A character that gets the girl, the apartment, the friends, but is so deep-rooted in their own sadness that they can’t see the bigger picture. It’s oddly frustrating, and relatively annoying to watch Niko mope his way through a largely privileged and uneventful life. He’s generally dislikeable, someone that isn’t sad because he misses opportunities, but is obnoxious because he is presented with lots to do. Opportunity awaits him, but his character has no drive to actually succeed or to do grasp life. It creates for an odd oxymoron, a film about diving into the potential of life, saddled with a character who refuses to do so for the entire running time.
A piece which exudes artistic pretentiousness, I shouldn’t have expected anything less from a film that looks to channel the debilitating efforts of Baumbach and Allen. Coffee in Berlin tries far too hard to be an artsy piece looking to express the meaningless of a young adult life. The various pitfalls and expressionless supporting characters throughout make it borderline palatable, if a bit unbelievable and self-serving. Detestable characters but some nice camerawork at times make for a truly middling, forgettable movie.