I marched thru the night, looking up to the snow kissed trees, and arrived too late for Cloud Atlas. Half an hour later a film I didn’t know, beyond reading that it was about a student dropout in Berlin, and was Black and White. I dashed back across the road for a thai curry, laden with mushrooms, which I left. I returned in time to get a seat and a small bag of popcorn, hoping this would not be the wrong sort of film for that. They were almost finished by the time it started.
The parallels with Manhattan were unavoidable – story vignettes, monochrome, a director in love with the city, a trad jazz soundtrack, the anxiety and troubles of modern living, the comedy of someone else’s misfortune If there had also been title cards it would have been too much. There was the recurring, failed search for a cup of coffee; I half expected Bill Murray to appear bearing a pot at some stage. It was tender and funny and romantic, and not too much happened, but somehow also a lot did.
It woke me up to the unspoken part of Berlin’s past too. A few months before I had been in a late night Budapest drinking den where the owner waxed in a language I could pick nothing up from, shouting at me, impassioned and excited – the only words I recognised were ‘Heil Hitler’. I left, awkward and uncomfortable. The same words reappear in two scenes of the film, but with – in both cases – a particularly profound context; a shadow of the burdon of the past, the weight of history that no New York story could carry. And no polemic, preachy conclusion – just a space to take your own, after a remarkable series of encounters: the grandmother of the kid who is selling drugs and a touching moment around her high-powered armchair, paid for with the drug-money. But there’s so many characters here I feel like I learnt more of the city than in my time here wondering. Oh Boy is everything I could want from a film, and to watch it in Berlin, with snow in the air and after two weeks of courting the city I couldn’t ask for more.