Featuring: Tom Schilling, Katharina Schüttler, Marc Hosemann, Justus von Dohnányi
Director: Jan Ole Gerster
Writer: Jan Ole Gerster
2013-14 Lotterywest Perth Film Festival season dates:
Somerville: 17–23 Feb, 8pm
Joondalup Pines: 24 Feb–2 March, 8pm
Verdict: Promises more than it delivers, but engaging nevertheless.
Berlin-based law school dropout Nico’s (Tom Schilling) day has started badly, with his girlfriend dumping him, necessitating him leasing a new apartment. Any hope of his new residence providing a comfortable haven is dashed when a troubled tenant knocks on the door with a welcome-to-the-neighbourhood offering of home-made meatballs that turn out to be inedible, then proceeds to break down in a blubbering mess. Retreating to the streets and cafes, Nico fails even to find a decent coffee, which he can barely afford anyway after an ATM swallows his credit card and his father stops his allowance. A chance encounter with a girl he has not seem since school promises a change of fortune, but the day goes from bad to worse, culminating in a jolting event that renders the earlier frustrations trivial.
Filmed in black and white in Berlin and set against a jazzy soundscape, this directorial debut from Jan Ole Gerster is big on mood, but like lead character Nico, unfocused and meandering, and somewhat unsure of its raison d’être.
It is engaging nevertheless, due mostly to the performance of Tom Schilling, who invests Nico with an ennui and rudderlessness with which disaffected and marginalised youth (past and present) will readily identify. Nico is not an angry young man, or a rebel with or without a cause; he just doesn’t feel a sense of belonging or purpose, and refuses – or perhaps is unable – to play the fitting-in game.
Hence, he seems vaguely at odds with his surroundings and less vaguely with the wacko people he encounters during the 24 hours the film covers. An officious psychologist, for example, plays a nasty game of cat and mouse when interviewing him about his suspended driving license, before deciding not to renew it. Then when he moves into his new apartment after being thrown out by his girlfriend, he is visited by a troubled neighbour who welcomes him with some ghastly home-made meatballs, before breaking down in a blubbering mess and unburdening himself of his very personal woes. A chance meeting with an old classmate (Katharina Schüttler) leads to a romantic dalliance that falls in a miserable heap when she pays out on him for making fun of her as an overweight schoolgirl. Nico responds to these and other oddballs by taking on their weirdness as his own, and with each such encounter his sense of alienation is reiterated.
The tone is light for the most part, but this is not laugh-aloud comedy unless youth in mild existential crisis does it for you. Probably the funniest scene of the film, albeit wryly and excruciatingly so, is an avant-garde theatrical performance sent up with obvious relish, along with the pretentious and ludicrously defensive director.
Remarkably for a German film, there is one scene in which an actor (ie: an actor playing an actor) light-heartedly references the Reich, observing that the Nazi uniform his role requires him to wear would be stylish without the swastika. The Nazi thread is picked up towards the end of the movie, this time in a far more serious mode that carries through to a conclusion which confronts Nico with some grim realities of his city’s past, and jolts him out of his existential malaise.
Ultimately, Oh Boy promises more than it delivers, but is worth a look if, like me, you find some undeniable doomy romantic appeal in a black-and-white excursion through Berlin’s cafe, bar and fringe theatre scenes in the company of a lost young Berliner stuck in nowhere land. Oh, and towards the end there’s an arresting aerial shot of early morning Berlin in which the lighting is perfect, reminiscent for a moment of those wonderful old classics in which the potential of the black and white medium was so beautifully realised.
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