I must begin with a movie that's not the one being reviewed here (A Coffee in Berlin). This other movie is Wim Wenders's 1987 Wings of Desire, which in German is called Der Himmel Über Berlin (The Sky Over Berlin). In Desire, there is a scene that no one can forget. It is when the late Peter Falk, who is standing in front of a kiosk one cold and misty Berlin morning, tells an angel (Bruno Ganz), who he cannot see but senses is near him, of the pleasures of being alive, being in a body, and being with people and things. "I wish I could tell you how good it is to be here," says Falk in that inimitable voice of his. "Just to touch something. That's cold. [To] feel good. To smoke, have coffee, and if you do it together, it's just fantastic." That moment and line is the essence of Jan Ole Gerster's A Coffee in Berlin, which, like Desire, is shot in black and white (though with a digital camera), and is about a heavy smoker (Tom Schilling), his longing for a cup of coffee, and his city—its trains, streets, apartment blocks, graffiti, restaurants, theaters, and so on.
What we see in A Coffee, originally called Oh Boy, is a kind of fallen Desire—a city that has no angels watching over it, a city that is a pure surface, a disenchanted city. The hero of this story begins nowhere and ends nowhere. His life is simple, he has lots of free time, he's young and good-looking. In one scene, he ends a relationship; in another, he loses his financial support from his father; in another, he meets a classmate from high school who was once obese and despised and is now thin and mentally unstable. Later, one of Berlin's many streams leads him to the set for a movie about a Nazi who finds out that the woman he loves is not who he thinks she is and that life is very complicated. This movie, like the movie it is in, is both tragic and funny.