OH BOY directed by Jan Ole Gerster
Part of the Nanovic Institute Film Series: Young and Broke in Europe
Screenwriter and Director Jan Ole Gerster will be present to introduce the film.
Official film site
Winner of six Lolas in 2013 (the German version of the Oscars): Best Film, Best Lead Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Direction, Best Screenplay, and Best Film Score.
Twenty-something Niko is out of luck: no job, no girl, no money. We follow his meanderings through a black-and-white Berlin, but the city does not provide the flaneur an escape from his problems. Set over of the course of one day, this slyly deadpan film depicts millennial melodrama in all its unavailing, gloried detail. In German; English subtitles. 83 min.
Jan Ole Gerster was born in Hagen, Germany, in 1978. He worked on the filming of Tom Tykwer’s "The Princess and the Warrior (2002) and Heaven (2002). He was assistant to directory Wolfgan g Becker on Goodbye, Lenin! (003), and he also directed a documentary abou the making of the film. Oh Boy (2012) is his feature film debut.
An Interview with Jan-Ole Gerster, Director of the award-winning film, OH BOY
The film, Oh Boy, whose title is taken from the John Lennon song “A Day in the Life of”, has won numerous film awards, including the 2013 prestigious German Oscar called Lolas. The film was introduced in 2012, but has been tearing its way through numerous film festivals since. In fact, director Jan-Ole Gerster estimates that he has been to perhaps fifty film festivals in the past year. The plot of the film takes place in contemporary Berlin, Germany, following a young law school dropout, Niko, in his encounters and some humorous misadventures over the course of 25 hours. The viewer finds that Niko is a somewhat changed person over that span of time, victorious in an anti-hero kind of way.
We had the opportunity to interview Jan-Ole Gerster prior to his arrival at the University of Notre Dame. Gerster is a pleasant and gregarious person, unlike his protaganist in the film, but sounded a bit tired, undoubtedly from the hectic schedule he has been leading.
Interviewer: Your film, Oh Boy, was selected by the Nanovic Institute to be a core part of a film series with the theme “Young and Broke in Europe”. How does your film fit into that general theme?
GERSTER: When editing the film, the economies of Portugal, Spain, and Greece were struggling, with a lot of unemployed young people in those countries. Many people did not have money. But I made a film about a young German man who was a drifter surviving on money he got, under pretense, from his father. I was worried that the film would be seen in the wrong way. I know what was going on in Nikos life, but I was still concerned how others in Europe would respond since Germany was doing pretty well. As it turned out, I was a bit surprised by the size of the audiences in Europe, even for an “art house” film like mine. What resonated with the audience, I think, was the feeling that the young people in wealthy or richer countries have some kind of financial security and freedom to do whatever they want in their life choices, but still suffer some angst as a result of that freedom. I think that is something that people feel deep inside, a kind of guilt from having so much choice when in less fortunate countries offer so little choice, and then not making any choices at all. When I walk through Berlin, or Paris, or Los Angeles, I think people have a subconscious awareness of the “first world” countries having a good life style. But, now that we are wealthy and healthy, we still seem to be unhappy at the personal level.
Interviewer: Your film has been called a tragic-comedy. Is that an apt description of the film?
GERSTER: I don’t mind if they call it a tragic-comedy, but I find it hard to call it a specific genre. I am inspired by people who use humor to portray something tragic, and using tragedy to portray something humorous. For example, I was inspired by the British working class cinema from the 70’s and 80’s that has this tonality that I love. I’m a big fan of Woody Allen, although Manhattan is not one of my favorites. The way Woody Allen tells a story is something I feel close to. Husbands and Wives is his version of Bergman’s Scenes From A Marriage. I was also inspired by Truffault’s film, The 400 Blows.
Interviewer: When you began filming Oh Boy, was the film fully conceptualized, or did it continue to evolve as filming took place?
GERSTER: At that point that I was writing the script, I wanted to say so much, wanted to put everything into it to make a huge impression as a film maker. I wrote several scripts, several really bad scripts. Finally, in frustration, I paused to go back and view some of my favorite films. I learned that I had to be as personal as possible in my own film. I didn’t really think how to sell this film or to structure the film. It just had to be emotional in a personal way. I often have the feeling that first-time film makers strive to be technically proficient, but their films lack a personal motivation. I appreciate emotional elements in film. When people have just come from film school, they see themselves as part of an industry, as opposed to artists telling their own story. My favorite film makers now are those that are writers at the first, inspired by what they know personally.
I am writing my new film now. I hate the idea of going out and illustrating or describing the project to promote it because I prefer to keep it open-ended. That is how Oh Boy was made, and I swore that I would never do it that way again. But, now that I am writing this new project, I want to keep it open to further development and change. I think John Cassavetes made films in this way also.
Interviewer: In your film, there is a series of incidents that diminish Niko’s physical mobility around Berlin. Is this a device used to propel the character development of Niko?
GERSTER: Niko is a passive character. I did not really intend to use the transportation aspect as part of Niko’s development. My inspiration for Niko is the main character in The Catcher In The Rye. That character is a slacker drifting through New York, but is the only one that sees things as they should be seen.
Interviewer: In your “Director’s Statement” on the website festivalscope.com, your indicated that a “balance of awe and naivete” was needed for your to embark on your film. What were you naïve about, and would you do anything differently in making your next film?
GERSTER: I was such a big mouth when I was young. People said I was the most important director in Berlin without a film. Getting older means realizing that things are much more difficult than what we thought when young. In film school, I started to have doubts about my capability. The responsibility of all that money on my shoulders and managing all the directors and support staff was a serious concern.
Interviewer: Also from your “Directors Statement” on festivalscope.com, you said that “First films should be individual and, despite this, or perhaps because of it, “universal”. What universal element would you most like the Notre Dame audience to take from your film?
GERSTER: I talked to a lot of people about their sense of my film, and heard a lot of different interpretations. I have been to over forty film festivals where it has been shown. It was my intention to make a film for young people, about young people, set in Berlin, which has its own special lifestyle for young people. This was based on my personal experience, but it somehow becomes more universal when you dig a little deeper. But it is up to each viewer to do the digging to find universality for themselves.
Interviewer: The running joke in your first film is Niko’s frustrated ongoing search for a good, regular cup of coffee, which he finally got in the closing scene of the film. Is there a larger meaning to this humorous element in your film?
GERSTER: I am very happy about the message of this and other parts of my film not being entirely clear. I want it to be open to interpretation. I like film endings that give you an idea of something and leaves open the viewer’s interpretation. Even if I have a firm idea in mind, I do not want to discuss it for fear of limiting interpretations by the audience.
Interviewer: On a separate note, you have apparently recently opened a bar/restaurant in Berlin. How is that going?
GERSTER: That is going very well, with traffic higher than we thought at this early stage. We have an excellent choice of beer and wine. The project does add to the stress, though.
Interviewer: Thank you, Mr. Gerstner. I hope your experience at the University of Notre Dame and the Nanovic Institute for European Studies is enjoyable and rewarding for you.