This is Not Berlin (Esto no es Berlín) Review
Studios: Samuel Goldwyn Films, Catatonia Films, La Palma de Oro Films
Run Time: 1 Hour and 49 Minutes
Director: Hari Sama | Screenwriters: Rodrigo Ordóñez, Hari Sama, Max Zunino
Cast: Xabiani Ponce de León, José Antonio Toledano, Ximena Romo, Mauro Sánchez Navarro, Klaudia García, Marina de Tavira
Release Date: August 9, 2019 (NY) | August 23, 2019 (LA)
As Mexico anticipates the 1986 World Cup, 17-year-old Carlos is less interested in soccer and more interested in listening to his record collection and admiring Rita, the older sister of his best friend, Gera. Carlos and Gera’s suburban, juvenile monotony is interrupted when Rita’s goth band introduces them to an underground nightclub — the Azteca. The teens are instantly seduced by the Azteca’s regulars and their exhilarating world of performance art, sexual fluidity, and prescription drugs. Carlos and Gera’s friendship is tested as the two explore new identities and face the consequences of adult decisions.
Coming-of-age stories always find a way to connect to my rebellious millennial soul. There is a diverse array of stories to tell on an international scale, and Hari Sama has delivered a poignant story of Mexican ‘80s culture full of relevancy and an educational cultural significance that exhibits a universal phenomenon that resembles our American perception of it.
Right in the heart of Mexico City in 1986 — the year where Mexico is brimming with excitement to be hosting the FIFA World Cup tournament — we follow young Carlos, an androgynous teenage schoolboy who leads an adequate and comfortable life along with his inseparable best friend, Gera. He participates in activities that most teenage boys do, such as sports, getting into fights, selling porno magazines to classmates, and collecting records. But the one thing he's interested in the most is Gera’s punkish older sister Rita whose interests are particularly new wave. After using his mechanical skills to help Rita out with a busted keyboard, she takes Carlos and Gera to an underground club where their entire life perspectives change as they venture off into:
Once they discover the underground scene — which introduces them to a subversive atmosphere where people of every gender are having sex, experimenting with hard drugs, denouncing monogamy, creating new age performance art, filming on Super 8 cameras, and listening to bands who challenge the system — they become more curious about themselves, their sexuality, and their perceptions of their world, which also challenges their friendship along the way.
What Hari Sama impressively achieves that makes This is Not Berlin an enjoyable time is how he distinctively captures his personalized cultural view during a time that I didn’t know was as influentially scene on an international scale. As an American who has seen plenty of conventional American ‘80s-era coming-of-age films, I never knew that the popular culture that existed in America also occurred in Mexico. The film is very open about the new wave movement that was popular during the ‘80s. Sama boldly expresses the raw, yet free, edginess of the underground culture with no bars held without romanticizing it for nostalgia sake. The film boasts a rebellious attitude but contains a lot of charm, primarily through the lead character Carlos. The narrative is set through his perspective, going more in-depth with queer culture and becoming more influenced, if not embraced, by it. As you witness the small details about his life, you understand his willingness to get caught up in this nightlife, using this counterculture as a form of escapism. At the same time, his actions have you questioning if his intentions are genuine or if there is an ulterior motive.
Prospering from the usage of rebellious punk-rock to synthetic pop music, Sama does a stellar job immersing you into his world with this endearing set of characters you warm up to. They may be full of attitude, but the characters are fleshed out as much as they can be. At its core, This is Not Berlin is a portrait of Mexican culture during the ‘80s. At its faultiest, the movie relies far too much on the topical traits of the era and emphasizes on it to raise discussion, even though it’s far too present in many other films set during that era without much surprise or detail. Some topics, such as the AIDS epidemic, are brought up and aren’t provided with their own cultural flair aside from the obvious.