IFFR 2013 Review: OH BOY Meanders Pleasantly Through A Beautiful Berlin
There is no shortage of debut films at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. Beginning filmmakers are encouraged through the Hivos Tiger Awards, and the festival section "Bright Future" strives to bring forward upcoming talent.
One film in this year's "Bright Future" section is Jan Ole Gerster's drama-comedy Oh Boy, and indeed there are a few talents involved here who show that they're worthy of following. Despite being set in Rotterdam's festival-arch-enemy Berlin, Oh Boy quickly earned itself some serious buzz here.
So what's it about? Read on!
Niko is a 27-year-old college drop-out who spends his days slacking in Berlin, living on an allowance from his parents, who think he still studies. And life is well.
But not on this day. In quick succession, Niko loses his girlfriend, driver's license and easy access to money. And as the day proceeds, Niko keeps being confronted with how much Berlin around him changes, and how he himself basically has been standing still for the past few years...
It seems a tired movie cliché: a young, handsome has-it-all guy loses everything and this wakes him up, making him finally notice the world around him. Yet Oh Boy doesn't feel tired at all, nor do we get a cliché "hero" who manages to achieve the impossible at the end. Instead, we get a wry realism. Although he can be considered spectacularly unlucky to encounter all this in a single day, the trials Niko goes through are not outrageous nor too exaggerated. With each new hurdle, you could hear appreciative groans in the audience as we ourselves have been in similar situations.
Oh Boy could easily have been a pretentious, boring, navel-gazing exercise, but instead it has become a very likable film, a crowd-pleaser even. This is all due to a combination of factors.
First of these is the clever script, written by director Jan Ole Gerster himself. While the story focuses on Niko, the situations he gets entangled in allow for some recollecting of Berlin's past, especially when the set of a Nazi film is visited or when a drunk old man starts talking about his youth. Rest assured the hipster side of Berlin gets some limelight as well. Oh Boy is Jan Ole Gerster's first feature, but he shows so much maturity and restraint that you wouldn't know it.
Second is actor Tom Schilling, who is very, VERY good as Niko. He plays him as neither a Saint nor an asshole. His Niko is smart and basically a good guy, just lazy and a bit too dependent on having things go his way in general. And Tom Schilling sells that totally. Mind you, all other actors are damn fine as well, but this is clearly Tom's show, front and center.
Third is the cinematography by Philipp Kirsamer. He captures Berlin in sun and in clouds, in morning and night, and all in beautiful black and white. A jazzy soundtrack with an eclectic use of songs finishes the package.
All in all, Oh Boy is a quietly impressive film. There are no big moments or belly-laughs, but it sets a certain mood and keeps it that way for the entire film, never really calling attention to how hip or clever it is. When we sense the approaching end of our time spent with Niko, we also have a pretty good view on how this particular day has touched him. And it's a lesson that feels earned.
With its beautiful cinematography and many references to recent history, Oh Boy is a love-letter to the city of Berlin. The trials and tribulations which befall the film's protagonist are never groundbreaking or all that profound, but they're well presented and make for poignant or funny episodes. Oh Boy moves on like a stroll through a very nice, amusing museum, and therefore comes much recommended.
The audiences in Rotterdam thought so too and awarded the film a 4.4 out of 5.
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