“A Coffee in Berlin” is a slacker movie, German style; and though at first glance it might seem as aimless as its main character, this wry, charming film actually offers some mature observations about this thing we call life.
Niko (Tom Schilling, very good) appears to be getting more reclusive by the day, but when his fed-up girlfriend shows him the door and his ATM pipeline dries up, he is forced into a series of bizarre encounters with a strange species he rarely deals with: Homo sapiens.
Writer-director Jan Ole Gerster whips up an odd assortment of characters who get in the way of Niko’s path to passivity — and his much-wanted cup of coffee. These oddballs, just to name a few, include an over-disclosing neighbor who offers bad-tasting food, an old schoolmate who hasn’t come to terms with her past, and an obnoxious psychiatrist who pulls no punches about Niko’s mental state.
The proceedings could easily have gotten precious, but Gerster’s sharp dialogue — and his wise choice not to force the comedy — make us happily join Niko’s wanderings through the streets of Berlin.
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Speaking of Berlin, the German metropolis plays an important role here, and Gerster’s third-act homage to the city plays out beautifully in a black-and-white film that has shadings of Woody Allen’s “Manhattan,” Jim Jarmusch’s “Stranger Than Paradise” and Martin Scorsese’s “After Hours.”
Still, this German brew has a peculiar flavor all its own, and when Niko finally gets his java, we believe that it’s the most important cup of coffee he will ever have.