★★★★☆The crushing social angst of a generation of despondent, shiftless hipsters has been a mainstay of micro-budget filmmaking. Whilst Jan Ole Gerster's Oh Boy! (2012) shares many of these traits, this black and white, Berlin-set slacker comedy also boasts a heart of gold and a suave, unassuming charm. We follow Niko (Tom Schilling), a young, directionless man wandering aimlessly through life. What transpires is a tragically hilarious episode in Niko's life, a man whose self-constructed wall of disillusionment has left him on the outskirts of the real world, peering in wistfully whilst unable to motivate himself to enter into the fray.
Each low-key vignette of Niko's insular life presents us with a naturalist snapshot of contemporary Berlin life, with director Gerster's dry, sharp humour often seeping into the frame like some form of unavoidable osmosis. Similar in tone to both the uncomfortable comedy of Curb Your Enthusiasm creator/star Larry David and the irony-tinged drollness of the mumblecore movement, this deadpan portrait of cultural cynicism is a surprisingly heartwarming excursion through the street of modern Germany that perfectly exemplifies the malady of today's disenfranchised Western Europeans.
Oh Boy! is littered with a myriad of trifling moments of coffee-black comedy. Jim Jarmusch's early transient films and Manhattan-era Woody Allen efforts are clearly a major influences on this charismatic tale. However, this joviality must inevitably make way for a more serious twist, that whilst initially jarring is a necessary moment of personal revelation and an essential emotional peak within Niko's otherwise flat-lining narrative arc. But whilst Niko may be the film's protagonist, it's the city of Berlin that's the film's standout.
An intimate love letter to the city, cinematographer Phillip Kirsamer's monochrome depiction of Berlin feels almost timeless, accentuating the charm of the German capital in a way that the grey concrete veneer of its war-torn architecture often fails to articulate. Sound-tracking this affectionately fashioned billet-doux is a swinging jazz score that infects Oh Boy!with a playful rhythm and contagious vivacity. Behind every joke and wry smile, there often lies a deep-seated sadness and sense of insecurity within all of us, with Gerster using Niko's inability to adapt to modern life to touch upon the film's underlying theme of national identity.
Niko's own disenfranchisement and lack of belonging is used as a metaphor for a city that still visibly bares the scars of a turbulent history of fascism, segregation and communism. Now more accepting of its history and continuing to carve out its own unique identity, Oh Boy! uses humour to encapsulate the continuous evolution of German identity. Intelligent, witty and, most importantly, an awful lot of fun, Oh Boy! is one of the most delightful discoveries of this year's Edinburgh Film Festival.
The 67th Edinburgh International Film Festival takes place from 19-30 June, 2013. For more of our EIFF 2013 coverage, simply follow this link.