SET AMID the punk scene of Mexico City in the 80s, This is Not Berlin, features best friends Carlos and Gera whose relationship is so sexually charged, it’s palpable as they share cigarettes.
According to Indie Wire, “Opening your film with a quote from Marcel Proust is certainly a choice, and This Is Not Berlin does its best to back the bold move. In his fourth narrative feature, Mexican filmmaker Hari Sama paints a vivid, if dizzying, portrait of his hometown, Mexico City circa 1986: There’s a steady stream of music, art, and literary references; broadly painted caricatures of youth searching for identity; hypnotic montages of political performance art; and full-frontal male nudity.”
Enlivened by exposure to their new scene, Carlos and Gera soon realize what the other kids at school might think of their new sexually fluid friends. “Is this a fag bar?” Gera asks his sister, to which she replies coolly: “It’s an everything bar.” Later, he’ll deliver this same missive to the guys at school as they warm the bench in their matching soccer uniforms. Their friendship is tested when Carlos goes out one night without Gera, at the invitation of a boy with a mulleted mohawk who’s clearly interested in more than a party buddy.
During one of these orgiastic art-making drug-fueled sessions (it’s unclear which activity takes precedence), an unnamed character screams the title of the film into the void: “This is not Berlin! Our friends are dying! All you do is party every night!” In its most generous interpretation, “This Is Not Berlin” applies a critical lens to art-making, or the performance of art-making, and the dangers of de-contextualizing one’s art from one’s lived experience. Apparently taking this advice to heart, the group mounts political performances during the national soccer games, hijacking a video feed with images of gay sex, declaring “soccer is homophobia,” and marching defiantly during a parade, the word “GAY” scribbled in red paint all over their naked bodies.
The Wrap said, “What’s lovely about the best scenes in This Is Not Berlin is the sense Sama captures of all the possibilities opening up for Carlos, so that he might finally kiss Rita or he might kiss Nico or he might join a band or make art or sleep with another girl he has his eye on, because Carlos is 17 years old and the world is at his feet. What makes this film so enjoyable is that it so often makes you feel the way he feels.”