By Simon Miraudo
February 17, 2014
A German hipster ambles from uncomfortable situation to uncomfortable situation in Jan Ole Gerster’s Oh Boy. Though the black-and-white feature has its fair share of jazzy stings on the soundtrack, what it really needs are the infamous horns from Curb Your Enthusiasm’s theme tune. But then Gerster would have to deploy them nearly every few minutes, so awkward are his hero’s interactions.
Tom Schilling stars as Niko, a young university dropout who can barely afford a cup of coffee. Following a breakup, he moves into his own apartment, and is subsequently dragged to one place or another by interweaving friends and family. Over 24 hours – compressed to a merciful 83 minutes – he reconnects with a mentally unstable girl from high school (Friederike Kempter), is chided by his father at a golf course, meets a new neighbour (bearing meatballs), and interrupts a movie set on which a Nazi romance is being filmed. The end!
Well, not quite. At various points he goes to see a modern dance show, visits the hospital, and, in a moment of desperation, considers stealing change from a sleeping homeless person (for that elusive cup of coffee). But to suggest Oh Boy has much of a narrative at all would be inaccurate; only the dimming of the screen as we move from morning to afternoon to night indicates where we might be in Niko’s story (and credit to cinematographer Philipp Kirsamer for imbuing the banalities of Niko’s Berlin adventure with a kind of beauty).
A hit in its native Germany, Oh Boy is wryly funny, if never gut-busting. Schilling barely raises his voice above a whimper, or conveys an expression other than resigned defeat, which makes him a fairly passive protagonist. The picture, however, is not nearly as detached. There are ghosts of Germany’s not so distant past always nipping at the frame. Nazi salutes, SS uniforms, burly skinheads, and all manner of allusions to the nation’s unflattering history intrude on Niko’s inert existence. If Niko is passive, the flick surrounding him is passive-aggressive; quietly reminding us that not all has been forgotten, even if youthful Berliners are busying themselves by seeking out caffeinated drinks, bathroom hook-ups, and obtuse performance art.
Oh Boy seems to capture a transitional moment in Niko’s life, though it’s hard to tell if it’s his last day as a social leech (his parents finally cut off his allowance on this fateful afternoon), or just another in a long line of them. In the genuinely touching final moments, he accidentally becomes accountable for another person’s life. Where to from here? These are questions for the morning, once Niko’s finally had a sweet sip of coffee. Gerster doesn’t dare suggest a specific reading for this series of unfortunate events; commitment of that kind is not cool enough for young, disaffected filmmakers. I’ve already met Oh Boy more than halfway by suggesting there is any kind of shape to this thing, or meaning to be derived from it. Oh Boy – like Niko – just is. There’s humour to be found in it; anything else is on you.
Oh Boy plays the Perth International Arts Festival in 2013.