A bad day is compounded by a lack of caffeine in A Coffee In Berlin, writer-director Jan Ole Gerster’s deadpan black-and-white portrait of a 24-hour span of lousy luck suffered by unemployed twentysomething Niko Fischer (Tom Schilling). Waking early in the morning, only to have his girlfriend promptly dump him, Niko sets off into Berlin with little plan except to procure himself a cup of joe—a quest that, in the film’s running gag, constantly eludes him. Unfortunately, he’s more than successful at finding disappointment, discontent, and general bizarreness around every subsequent corner, beginning with a neighbor in his apartment building who brings him disgusting meatballs as a moving-in gift, and then drunkenly cries about his wife’s mastectomy.
A young man whose face would be described as “fresh” if it wasn’t perpetually stuck in a semi-frown, Niko soon meets up with actor friend Matze (Marc Hosemann) to visit another acquaintance on the set of a Holocaust drama. That uneventful incident is followed by a golfing get-together with Niko’s dad (Ulrich Noethen), who reprimands his son for dropping out of school and cuts him off financially. Eventually, the hero attends the play of Julika (Friederike Kempter), a former childhood classmate whom Niko used to tease about being fat. Julika is now slender and interested in her former tormenter, making it seem like things might turn up for the protagonist. Yet, as befitting the wry tone struck by Gerster, this subplot is merely another pothole along Niko’s path to figuring out who he is and what he’s doing with his life.
Answers to those questions remain elusive in A Coffee In Berlin, as the director instead affects a hanging-out mood that melds the slacker cool of Jim Jarmusch’s 1984 film, Stranger In Paradise, to the dry, jazz-scored, melancholy-tinged comedy of early Woody Allen. Gerster has a knack for eliciting laughs out of silent reaction shots and awkward pauses, and he generates an overarching atmosphere of romantic loserdom. Niko’s final stop along his journey is a bar and, after a strange conversation with a sloshed, rueful older gentleman, a hospital makes an appearance. Though it clashes with the lightly morose humor of what came before, the ending is fitting; this understated indie deepens its portrait of growing up by suggesting, ultimately, that anyone who thinks wasting time is a reasonable course of action needs to wake up.