Against a hypnotic soundtrack, A Coffee in Berlin , always with humor and often with tenderness, demonstrates the inadequacy of both compassion and apology as salve to the wounds, personal and political, those we glibly categorize as “just part of growing up” and those we justly brand evil and monstrous,through the eyes of an alienated twenty -something who can’t even manage to procure a coffee in Berlin.
Young Nikko is neither hero nor anti-hero, but a young man seemingly lost in directionless motion, holding on to the privileges of his life ( family allowance, leisure, drugs, alcohol, sex, companionship) without forming any great attachment to anything. His is a youth unburdened by responsibility but also devoid of promise, neither littered with belief nor sketched with direction. He applies intelligence against authority which enables him to distinguish the absurd and inequitable from the bullying and illegitimate but he seems unable to engage emotion to match his perception. Nor is able, when he finds himself the offender, to direct his encounters to resolution.
Nikko passively inhabits a world which exists in the shadow of Hollywood creations and Washington power plays, as evidenced by his mimicing actor friend and the anti- US graffiti spattered about the city.
More poignantly, Nikko apparently cannot find his place in this landscape through which he travels unsuccessfully seeking a cup of coffee,haphazardly, at times, the phlegmatic wanderer, observing but ineffectually engaging others. His contacts: the neighbor, the old school mate, the buddy, the drug dealer, the thugs, the father, the probation officer, the bartender, – each like a painted pony on the merry-go-round invite engagement, but Nikko avoids connection. Filial attachment, even gratitude,is inoperative. Nikko is immune to sentimentality. He demonstrates neither moral, ethical nor legal concerns for conformity with social standards. While he can own the harm he caused a woman whom he bullied as a child, he acknowledges he cannot understand how she felt, and he refuses a new connection either in intimacy or in her own complex drama of angry behaviors.
Nikko is, however, drawn to connect with the old woman who offers only sandwiches and comfortable seating. The viewer questions whether this kinship is born of some understanding which the young and the old can share about the limits of dreams.
Nikko’s other connection is presaged by a darkly humorous “film within a film.” Nikko wanders into a movie set filming a cloying sentimental and savagely revisionist World War II drama wherein a SS officer falls in love with a Jewish woman whom he hides, becoming her savior and, at the fall of Berlin, himself, the persecuted. Later, as an old and failing drunk attached himself to Nikko, the elder recalls Kristallnact, and what Berlin was like, through his eyes as a child.
We leave Nikko with his coffee in Berlin, and we are, all of us, contemplating: To be a twenty-something, carrying the legacy of Kristallnact; To be human, feeling adrift; To have the goal, only, of a coffee in Berlin.