A Coffee in Berlin

Jan-Ole Gerster’s film cleaned up at the German Academy Awards under the title Oh Boy; here it’s going by A Coffee in Berlin and maybe relatedly being billed as Jarmuschian — which is to say eccentric, meandering, shot in black and white, broodingly caffeinated. But this is zippier and more approachable than the average Jim Jarmusch outing, if also more strenuous, brisk even in downbeat moments and sometimes effortfully quirky. Tom Schilling plays a feckless college dropout with great reaction-shot eyes, low on life experience but frequently targeted for the unburdening of variously troubled souls. With ever-encroaching Teutonic heft kept at bay by a sprightly jazz score, Gerster gathers empathy and momentum as the film puts our man in Berlin through the paces of twentysomething drift. There’s a disappointed father. There’s a young woman whom he’d teased about her weight when they were in school together. There’s a friend of a friend who’s playing a Nazi in some cheesy movie. And aggro subway cops, and bathetic performance artists, and a neighbor’s meatballs, and an abject urge to swipe coins from a panhandler’s cup, and one barfly’s sobering memory of Kristallnacht. At last, there’s great relief in the sport Gerster makes of the unwritten rule that every German film worthy of an international audience apparently must make a project of generational reconciliation.