Run time: 30 mins
In Theaters: Sunday 1st July 1979
Production compaines: Schiwago Film, Hessischer Rundfunk (HR), Chromosom Filmproduktion, ARTE
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Director: Jan Ole Gerster
Producer: Marcos Kantis, Martin Lehwald, Michal Pokorny
Screenwriter: Jan Ole Gerster
Starring: Tom Schilling as Niko Fischer, Marc Hosemann as Matze, Friederike Kempter as Julika Hoffmann, Justus von Dohnányi as Karl Speckenbach, Katharina Schüttler as Elli, Arnd Klawitter as Phillip Rauch, Martin Brambach as Kontrolleur Jörg, Andreas Schröders as Psychologe, Ulrich Noethen as Walter Fischer
Also starring: Justus von Dohnanyi
Even though it's perhaps a bit over-constructed, this German comedy-drama is a hugely enjoyable personal odyssey with strong echoes of Woody Allen's classic era. Shot in black and white, the film feels like a minor classic as it follows a loser through a single day in which his whole life seems to hang in the balance. And even though he's an aimless mess, we can't help but love him.
His name is Niko (Schilling), and he begins the day by breaking up with his girlfriend then trying to convince a sarcastic psychologist (Schroders) that he deserves to get his driving license back after a drunk-driving conviction. He hasn't quite moved into his Berlin flat, and a nosey neighbour (von Dohnanyi) seems far too interested in him. So he leaves to hang out with his actor friend Matze (Hosemann), at which point he runs into Julika (Kempter), a girl he used to taunt for her weight at school. But Julika is now thin and hot, so he accepts an invitation to her art performance that evening. Before heading there, he visits his father (Noethen) to ask for some money and drops in on another actor friend (Klawitter) on the film set of a Nazi melodrama.
It becomes clear early on that Niko has absolutely no ambition. So it's no surprise that his father cuts him off when he learns that Niko dropped out of law school two years ago, and has been living off his university allowance so he has time to "think". The comedy comes from the fact that everyone Niko encounters on this fateful day seems to be interrupting his plan to waste his time. And Schilling plays him so beautifully that he earns our sympathy without ever asking for it. He may be a useless slacker, but he's smart, witty and utterly charming.
The characters around Niko are just as textured, slotting perfectly into the plot's overall puzzle with moments of madness, hilarity, emotion and riotous social commentary. Yes, the film may have a jazzy American vibe, but it also touches on very German themes like the lingering fallout from WWII and Soviet occupation. In this sense, the film's improvised approach merely disguises what is actually a finely crafted work of art. Sometimes the dialog may feel a little too perfect, but every encounter is packed with telling observations that make us smile.