VOD Releases: Coffee (2018) - Reviewed

Coffee is a drama telling three different stories that take place in three different countries. The stories are narratively unconnected, but thematically linked by the presence of coffee in the character’s lives. The coffee connection is a little forced at times and the endings feel overly contrived, but the performances are good and the stories are solid. 

One of the four stories is set in Italy. It is about Renzo (Dario Aita), an expert on coffee beans. He is fired from his job as a barista, so he convinces his girlfriend, Gaia (Miriam Dalmazio), to move with him to Trieste so he can try to get work with a coffee company. 

Another one is set in China. This story follows Fei (Fangsheng Lu), who works for his girlfriend’s father, a powerful businessman. Fei is ordered to go to a rural town to reopen a coffee plant which has been closed due to mechanical issues. 

The third story focuses on two different characters and is set in Belgium. There we meet Vincent (Arne De Tremerie), a young man desperate for money so he can support the mother of his infant, and Hamed (Hichem Yacoubi), an antique shop owner who refuses to sell his prized antique coffee pot. These two men interact with each other in a narrative that takes place amid protests on the streets of Belgium. 

The film bounces back and forth between these stories, focusing on one for a stretch before switching over to another. There are some tangential connections between them, but this is not one of those movies, like Crash, where the characters all interact with each other. It is really just a collection of short films in which coffee plays an important part in each of the character’s lives. 

However, there are other thematic links besides just coffee. Personal responsibility, especially involving the relationship between fathers and sons, how far a desperate person will go for money and the need to reconcile the past to move forward in the present are all important in multiple stories. This allows the overall film to feel like one piece as opposed to an anthology. 

Movies like Coffee are a challenge. Even if the individual stories work, if they do not perfectly fit together, especially during the climax, the whole enterprise suffers. Such is the case here. The thing that holds Coffee back from being something really memorable is that none of the stories are able to truly connect at an emotional level or pay off in any meaningful way. But do not let that scare you off. Coffee still has a lot to recommend it. 

The short story format does not hurt the quality of the individual stories, each of which is interesting in their own right (though I would say that Fei’s story is the one I found the most compelling). Coffee is a decently enjoyable film, valuable for the way it mixes stories using different cultures, countries and languages. It is a relatively ambitious project in that regard and definitely makes for an intriguing watch. 

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-Ben Pivoz