“Did i look pathetic when i fall down?”
―Niko, Oh Boy.
I have been looking forward to see Oh Boy for months before serendipitously it was one of the in-flight film choice during my trip to Medina. Later as i research about the film i found out that this is a thesis film of the director, which meant it was also his first feature film, which made me suitably impressed. (fair warning, contain spoiler)
This is a film about a day in the life of Niko Fisher (Tom Schilling), definitely not the best of day of his life (i presume). Niko just want a cup of coffee, regular black coffee, not the fancy seeds from god-knows-where with whipped creams complete with some rainbow-sprinkled baked goods, just coffee. But instead he drift from one place to another (whilst looking for a cuppa) and got saddled with one misfortune after another. From the broken ATM machine and his invalid card, getting his license revoked due to DUI, his dad finally found out that he got dropped out of law school. But as he aimlessly wanders on the streets of Berlin, Niko kept running from encounters with a strangers or estranged friends, each one is more absurd than the last.
The film roughly set within 24 hours of Niko Fischer’s life. From the very begininng of the film the character of Niko’s character is established through the simple exchange between him and his girlfriend as he made his excuses to get away from her by saying he has millions of things to do, which we learned later in the film is an empty excuse. Soon we learned that he loves making these excuses. He drifts in life preferably alone, making one excuse after another, carefully detached himself from others. He alienate himself through it, keeping his distance away from everyone else in his life. The encounters he experience throughout the film actually grounded him, forcing him to see the truth about himself. The cup of coffee he desires, is not merely a running gag in the film. Instead i think it represents Niko’s journey of self-discovery that day, and just like coffee it’s usually bitter and give you a much needed jolt to wake up and start your day.
Mainly a character study of Niko, but kept it explorative enough through various encounters. I think there’s a sense of past and future collides as well as Niko saw an old friend he used to bullied and strike a conversation with a strange old men at a bar. The screenplay is resting on delicate balance between black comedic against bleak background of Berlin own history. Jan Ole Gerster first feature length film shown a level of maturity and restrains most filmmaker couldn’t’ve obtained after a decade. Each encounter has its own weight that made the end of the film that more poignant. Schilling beautifully become the embodiment of the script patience and restrains. He allows us to observe the character journey through the subtleties of his role.
WHY BLACK AND WHITE? Usually first time director went for B&W films for their first feature (Aronofsky, Lynch, etc). Gorgeous, grainy B&W lensing through the use of RED camera by cinematographer Phillipp Kirsamer lend the film an air of timelessness. Jazz music score the entire journey of the film. It works splendidly with the B&W visual, maybe because both are classical elements. The score is light and flippant, give it an air of comedy despite the bleak story that unfolds. Baumbach’s Frances Ha definitely came to mind when i saw the film. The two felt very similar in terms of the lead, the ode to the city, the Woody Allen-esque aspects (jazz musical accompaniment included), and of course, the black and white.
I don’t watch a lot of german cinema, but Gerster astounding first feature film and made me excited to see what else is in store for him in the future. Oh Boy is witty and unexpectedly sentimental. If you enjoyed Frances Ha, you’d love this one too :)
OH BOY / A COFFEE IN BERLIN (2012)
DIRECTOR Jan Ole Gerster | WRITER Jan Ole Gerster | CINEMATOGRAPHER Phillipp Kirsamer | EDITOR Anja Siemens | STUDIO Schiwago Films | COUNTRY Germany | RUNNING TIME 83 minutes | BUDGET €300,000 | RELEASE November 12, 2012 (Germany), June 13, 2014 (US)
STARRING Tom Schilling, Marc Hosemann, Friedrike Kempter, Michael Gwisdek
DID YOU KNOW? Oh Boy is renamed as A Coffee in Berlin for its US release, although it might be driven by certain business strategy too. The film swept the 2013 Deutscher Filmpreis aka Lolas (german equivalent for Academy Awards), where the film received the awards for Best Feature Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Score. (I’d like to see an underdog, relatively unknown, modestly-budgeted indie, debut feature film manage that pull the same thing at the Oscars one day.)