There is a satisfaction that comes from watching a black and white film that is as aimless as the Sunday afternoon you choose to watch it on.
So many thoughts are bubbling up about this film that I want to express and I can’t help but draw parallels to myself and the main character, Niko Fischer.
Before attempting to write this review, (a more accurate description of this post would be simply a flurry of my own personal biased thoughts) I read some online reviews of the film and a lot of it seem mixed. This film is not a movie for those who want a mainstream progression of events, a climax, and then an ending – although I would argue that this story does provide it’s own version of that.
Something about the way that Niko’s life is portrayed makes it seem romantic, makes it seem somewhat glamorous, when in reality, it is anything but. The black and white, the crooning jazz music, the way he bums lights for his cigarettes all make him and his story alluring. In reality, this is a story about a lost 20-something boy navigating his life in Berlin, with no job, no direction, and no real human connections all the while trying to get one damn regular cup of coffee. Although the entire film is in German, and in Berlin, there is an element of universality with my generation.
I can’t remember the last time a film resonated with me in the way that this film did and I think it’s the simple way Niko’s story is told. In order for any piece of content, be it a blog post, a picture, a film, an article, to affect the audience, it has to be relatable to that audience. As 20-somethings, don’t we all have relationships that have not quite ended? As 20-somethings, aren’t we all doing some kind of thinking of our future and of ourselves, that before we know it has spanned to two or more years? As 20-somethings, aren’t we just trying to get a cup of coffee that isn’t 5 dollars and no, I don’t want any freaking soy milk, if you ask me one more question about my regular cup of coffee, I will scream. As 20-somethings, don’t we all feel aimless, wanting to live in the moment one minute, and feeling deathly anxious about our future the next?
These are all questions that Niko struggles with as we spend the day with him. In one scene, Niko visits a movie set and for a moment Niko is beside us watching a part of the film. It’s the romantic climax of a Nazi Germany romance film and so much of it is cliche, with the lines and the acting rather exaggerated. To me, this scene seemed to serve as a reminder to Niko of just another thing that was missing in his life – a passionate love.
Just prior to this scene, Niko’s former classmate, Julia, ugly duckling turned beautiful swan, reenters his life and invites him to a performance art showing. It’s obvious as viewers that something romantic is in the works, but also clear from the way the film is going is that this meeting will be anything but the boy sweeping the girl off the feet and riding off into the sunset.
The start of Niko’s development as a character on screen becomes clear with his interactions with Julia. After Julia’s performance, Niko steps outside to escape the heated debates going on inside the theater, and Julia follows him out soon after. I really liked Julia’s character – a girl who, despite being taunted for her looks all throughout middle school, has done well for herself, performing and coming into her own. Niko recognizes this, and makes a statement that he envies her ability to be vulnerable and perform on stage. While they are speaking there is a confrontation with some drunk bros where she stands up for herself, further showing her development as a person. This altercation happens as Niko attempts to open up to her with what seems to be the thesis of the film:
“Do you know what it’s like… to have the feeling that all the people around you are honestly kind of weird? But when you think it over, then it becomes clear that the problem is with yourself.”
Funny thing is, as soon as he attempts to bare his soul and open up to her, he’s interrupted. The chance for a real connection is lost. They attempt to bring some sort of physical connection after everything, but Niko soon realizes the consequences of both his actions and inactions, and I as a viewer saw a growth within him at that moment.
Then comes the most interesting part of the film – a strange drunk man talks to Niko about his life and his sad story, relaying to Niko his inability to understand anyone anymore. This scene was poignant to me because of the similarities that both this man and Niko shared. To me, it looked as if Niko was speaking to his future self, and a part of me wondered if Niko saw himself in that man. The strange man collapses outside of the bar and dies, and by the end of the film, Niko is seen finally getting his cup of coffee.
Despite Niko’s slacker attitude, I couldn’t help finding myself drawn to him and rooting for him, for the smallest things, even getting that cup of coffee. Despite dealing with the uncertainty of his own life, Niko proved to be a rather empathetic character and not as self-absorbed as people tend to think our generation can be. He helped out a homeless guy (even though he tried to retrieve the money because his ATM card got eaten up), he seemed curious about getting to know a stranger’s grandmother, even giving her an awkward albeit endearing hug, and recognized the consequences of sleeping with a girl who had unresolved feelings towards him.
Niko served as an unlikely hero of a story that we might have heard before, because he was relatable and realistic and most of all showed us his vulnerability in the most charming of ways, in just a day.
I recommend watching the film alone and having an aimless, black and white day, searching for that perfect cup of coffee à la Niko.
For another, quite well-written review, that I found myself agreeing with, click here.