A timeless work of cinema, yet generationally set in contemporary Berlin, black and white German film Oh Boy presents a day in the life of Niko Fischer as he goes through a series of life-changing experiences, awkward conversations and moments of clarity, all in the pursuit of a cup of coffee.
Screening several times in Cairo during the 6th edition of the Panorama of the European Film's First Time Directors category, Oh Boy, with its unique outlook, has won a number of awards this year.
Jan Ole Gerster, the writer and director of the 2012 production, wrote Fischer in a way that describes himself in his mid-twenties, but also others around him. The quest for oneself in the world, and the anxieties, disappointments, confusions that come with such an endeavour, transcends physical borders and manifests itself in many young people's lives.
At the onset of the movie we see Fischer, whose girlfriend left him that morning, and whose parents stop financing him for having dropped out of school, goes from one social interaction to the next as he pursues a cup of coffee with which to start his day – a cup of coffee which, for alternating reasons, never appears to materialise.
The coffee Fischer doesn't seem to procure serves as a symbol for the attempt to start the day. In his failure to achieve this simple task, his day never seems to begin, prompting existential questions about his life, on hold since he abandoned law school two years prior.
Throughout Fischer's social situations, Oh Boy touches upon several underlining themes. One such pertains to his middle-aged neighbour who struggles in his sexual relationship with his wife after she battled with breast cancer; another to his old school classmate Julika, who was bullied for being fat by Fischer and his friends, and is now a svelte interpretative dancer who is both fragile and empowered by her experience. We also get a window into his relationship with his father and his friend, a struggling actor who, much like Fischer, is waiting for his life to happen.
In one scene, Fischer asks Julika over a cigarette, "Do you know when people around you seem kind of strange? Then the longer you think about it, the more you realise that it's not the other people that are strange but yourself?" This line encapsulates the confusion overtaking the character, and unveils some of the deeper aspects of this otherwise pleasant chap.
As Fischer strolls around Berlin, cinematographer Philipp Kirsamer presents a series of captivating images of the German capital, with its beauty, its never-ending construction sites, its hustle and bustle, and then as it sleeps. The black and white choice for the film portrays the city in a new light; distancing and isolating it from reality while capturing the emotions that Fischer struggles with throughout the film.
"It's so hard to find something like a goal you want to achieve because [...] of these materialistic goals: I want a car, I want a job, but this isn't really fulfilling," Alexander Wadouh, one of the film's producers told Ahram Online. "We are trying to find something which, on the one hand, pays the rent, but it's not the most important thing anymore; you want personal freedom, personal fulfilment, you want spiritual fulfilment within your work. You want that your work is not only producing money, but is good for the world. You want to save the world."
Compared to the generation of parents to twenty-something-year-olds who had to make these choices of careers and life paths in the 70s and 80s, this generation seems somehow stuck, Wadouh explains.
"On one hand you still have to pay stuff, everything costs money, on the other hand, our generation is just not that willing to dive into the system and be a robot for the system," he says. "We are discovering things, asking about them. There is Twitter and Facebook and social media. So whenever there is some kind of injustice in the world you hear about it, you can engage yourself. Fischer is just lost and many in our generation are lost."
The same may somewhat be true of contemporary Cairene society. Rather than diving into the system's social expectations – buying a house, getting married, finding a job that pays for the children's private education – a large number of young people now prefer to explore alternative options. While some manage at times, the struggle of others continues as they wonder about, and seek, a place in society.
According to Wadouh, after the film's release last year in Germany the team received feedback from viewers who related to Fischer's character on different levels. There were those who were once 'Nico Fischers', but transcended that phase by their mid-thirties. There were also the parents of the 'Nico Fishers' who could identify their children on that screen.
At the Chromosom production office, a ground-floor apartment in Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin, Wadouh says someone knocks at the door to discuss the film at least once a week.
“If you are honest in your film, and you are honest in making a film, then people somehow mysteriously understand it and appreciate it, and I think this was the thing about Oh Boy; it was a very honest film by the director. He stripped bare, and half of it is autobiographical,” says Wadouh. “Nothing in this film is fake although everything is fake.”
With a witty script, engaging characters and wrapped in jazz music, Oh Boy, is definitely a must-see for all lost twenty-something-year-olds and their families, in Cairo and other corners of the world.
'Oh Boy' (Germany, 2012)
Thursday 28 November, 6.30pm at Plaza Cinema, Americana Plaza Mall, Sheikh Zayed
Friday 29 November, 1pm at City Stars Cinema, Omar Ibn Al-Khattab St, Nasr City
Saturday 30 November, 6.30pm at Galaxy Cinema, 67 Abdel-Aziz Al-Saud St, Al-Manial
Complete programme of Panorama of the European Film.