“A Coffee in Berlin” — 3 stars
A German dropout embraces slackerdom (1:23). Not rated: Sexuality, mature themes. Subtitles. Sunshine.
Casual viewers may be surprised to learn that Jan Ole Gerster’s black-and-white slacker dramedy swept the German Academy Awards last year. Deceptively understated and determinedly laid-back, the movie seems suited to the stateside indie environs of South by Southwest or Sundance.
Go with lowered expectations, because you certainly won’t find the serious tone or thematic depth that we like to see in American Oscar winners. What you will get, though, is a charming performance from Tom Schilling as Niko, a confused college dropout wandering around Berlin as his world casually crumbles. Director Gerster shoots Niko’s dazed confusion with a wry but non-judgmental approach. This allows us to empathize with Niko even in his most clueless, but still charming, attempts to Figure Life Out.
“Violette” — 2 stars
Biopic about French author Violette Leduc (2:12). Not rated: Sexuality, mature themes. Subtitles. Angelika, Lincoln Plaza.
There is a fascinating story to be told about Violette Leduc, a French feminist whose sexually explicit writing was banned by authorities and embraced by contemporary writers and thinkers like Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. Martin Provost’s intriguing but uneven biopic is most successful when he focuses on those connections, particularly Leduc’s complicated relationship with her mentor Simone de Beauvoir (played by a compelling Sandrine Kiberlain).
Emmanuelle Devos puts everything into the title role. But her Violette is so self-centered as to be nearly unbearable. Playwright Jean Genet (Jacques Bonnaffé) accuses her of being “such a drama queen.” (Who knew that was the post-war literary world’s insult of choice?)
Violette herself chooses to describe herself as “jealous, bitter and unhappy,” which is so accurate that even de Beauvoir has limited patience with her acolyte. Leduc is an author worth knowing about, but this is a character only an already-established fan could love.