Niko Fischer (Tom Schilling) cannot stick to anything or with anyone for an extended period of time. The film opens with Niko at his girlfriend Elli's place in the early morning hours. He insist that he has to leave because he has appointments but it's quite obvious he doesn't plus he has no real excuse why he cannot return that evening. She offers to make him coffee but he claims that he has a million things to do. The failure to obtain a coffee is the first of the two running bits thought the film. The other being his constant search for a light for a cigarette.
The story moves forward an undisclosed period of time Niko is moving into a new place, his girlfriend is reduced to a series of photos in a box. He has no furniture and a new nosy upstairs neighbour. While lounging around his new place he realizes that he is late for an appointment. He rushes to an office building where he meets with a government official who has Niko driving future in his hands. The meeting does not go well thus starting a series of disappointing episodes that play out over the course of the day.
First time director Jan Ole Gerster delivers a clean linear story to the screen. It's an account of a mid twenties loafer that wanders in no particular direction around Berlin because he can. He is keenly aware that if he gets into any real trouble he can always go to his parents to bail himself out. The tale includes many appealing characters that Niko meets in is travels. Amongst them is his friend Matze (Marc Hosemann) who is an actor that was top of his craft in acting school but is working in advertising as no role he is offered is worthy of is talent. Julika Hoffman (Friederike Kempter) a classmate from grade school who he used to make fun of because of her weight in and is now a dancer and performance artist. Perhaps the best encounters are with two senior citizens; Frau Baumann the grandmother of Matze drug contact and an old man that he meets in the bar at the end of his long nightmarish day.
The presentation is in black and white and features many compelling shooting choices. The opening scene with Niko and Elli is introduces with a shot from outside the doorway of her room. The shooting angle emphasizes the dark shadows on the wall leading to the room and captures the morning light coming in through the drapes and under the bed. The film is mainly conversational and most of these scenes are a two camera shot with a camera fixed behind each actor on the screen. The black and white environment really brings out the shadows on the actors faces, under the folds of clothing and the quiet parts of the frame.
Cinematographer Phillipp Kirsamer took full advantage of the black and white environment.
The film is beautifully shot with a crisp lens. Kirasmer uses a lot of reflections in his work. Niko reflection in a mirror in is bathroom, the cityscape passing by reversed on the passenger door glass of Matze's car and off the large windows on the patio at his father's golf club. Another notable section of Kirsamer's work is in the bar scene where Niko has a conversation with the old man. The understated lighting is pleasing to the eye and the smoke from Niko's cigarette headed up to the ceiling lights is reminiscent of a 1940's film. The quintessential shooting sequence is a passage when night turns to day in the city. It's a series of quick cuts between landmarks backed by piano showing the stillness of Berlin at dawn.
The musical passages are mainly in two genres jazz and classical. Jazz notes form the background of Niko's first scene with Elli and the bar scene with the old man while classical piano is prominent as Niko rides though town with Matze at night. The piano is also the background music in Niko encounter with Ms. Baumann as she lets him try her reclining chair in the living room. There is even a bit of dixieland as late afternoon in Berlin turns to early evening.
Tom Schilling is impressive as the rudderless Niko Fischer. He is in every scene in the film and very comfortable in the role as a University dropout that is in no particular hurry to decide what to do next. Marc Hosemann is strong as his unconformist friend Matze. Look for Ulrich Noethen as Niko dad Walter Fischer who delivers a memorable performance in a small role telling Niko that that best thing he can do for him is nothing more as he shuts off the money tap. Friederike Kempter is formidable as Julika; Niko grade school classmate that was picked on as a little girl, transformed herself but still fraying on the edges of her personality.
oh Boy is a superb first effort from and emerging filmmaker. As writer director Gerster has presented a piece with a strong narrative full of solid characters. There is no heady theme or message to take with you as you leave the theatre. It's an enjoyable story and a film that I strongly recommend.
*** 1/2 out of 4.
oh Boy | Jan Ole Gerster | Germany | 2012 | 83 Minutes.
Twenty-somethings, Berlin, Quitter, Bullying, Redemption, Tough Love, Performance Art, Film Set, Coffee, Cigarettes, Graffiti.