The last screening, Jan Ole Gerster’s A Coffee in Berlin, is a black and white road movie in the whereabouts of Berlin. Despite its incensed title, which suggests a distinctive scent (of coffee) in the air, the film manages to evolve into a difficult piece of modern drama about urban existence, and becomes a real cinematic experience with very little coffee in it.
The main character, Niko, portrayed by Tom Schilling, manifest the characteristics of generation Y, showing chronic dissatisfaction, self-absorption and financial dependence. As a young and unemployed grad-school dropout, Niko cannot deal with people around him because he refuses to believe they share common problems. He is a paradigmatic lost boy in his own habitat, wandering through Berlin, looking for a coffee. Broke, unable to drive, and fundamentally alone, Niko still believes himself being better than the others and deserves the time to figure out his purpose.
On the other hand, Berlin itself looks like a character and an entity in flux. Since 1987, when Wim Wenders returned to Germany to shoot his black and white Wings of Desire, Berlin changed a lot. The two films have in common the examination of human inner conflict of emotional aspirations and the urban reality of the city. Walled off from the post WWII economic miracle that swept Germany back to the apex of Europe, Berlin feels like a city still settling into its own skin. Berlin’s identity is important to Niko’s personal development. His journey is inextricably tied up to the city and the people within it, being portrayed by meeting other people and showing certain intellect and curiosity in his observations. In Mr. Gerster’s words: “I found it appealing to have a character who does nothing, who is very passive and still, but is wide awake and noticing things, and I thought it would be interesting to send him on a road trip without really leaving Berlin”.
The story pictures a profound image of an entire generation trying to understand and demand its purpose, offering new insights into being young those days. The charm of the film emanates form the communication between the characters in the absence of dialog. Metaphors abound upon life and the cruel side of it, to be lost in the real world. “You know when you get the feeling that the people all around you are kinda strange somehow? But when you think about it a little longer, you realise it’s not the others but you who’s the problem?”
A Coffee in Berlin is another exploration of life and solitude on the screen. In opposition to the classic process of filmmaking, where the director has the characters in mind, Gerster’s method unfolds attitudes in human beings without necessarily knowing them.