LFF 2019 – This Is Not Berlin – Review

Release date – N/A, Cert – N/A, Run-time – 1 hour 55 minutes, Director – Hari Sama

A teenager (Xabiani Ponce de León) attends a nightclub that has his eyes opened to a world of drugs, rebellion and sexual freedom.

Earlier this year audiences were treated to the absolute delight that was Beats. Looking into the actions of two Scottish teenagers exploring the 1990’s rave scene. Hari Sama’s This Is Not Berlin initially seems to be in a similar vein, following two rebellious teens as they discover and explore the world of 1980’s punk rebellion through a nightclub that they both attend. However, as one begins to become increasingly fascinated with the loud and confident world of drugs and sexual freedom the other begins to feel distanced from his once best friend, trying to keep his credibility in school as intact as possible; feeling it having been damaged from just one visit to the nightclub.

The nightclub is very much focused on public demonstrations of freedom and equality, taking part in what may seem somewhat outlandish protests, one involving naked men and women, “gay” sprawled all over themselves, pulling a clothed figure with a whip down the road. Such actions are met with large amounts of distaste from the public, especially with this being set in 1980’s Mexico. Initially such protests, and the rebellious nature of the depicted punk scene are rather interesting. The creative and experimental nature captures the attention and imagination of the viewer, while still managing to encapsulate the rather anarchic nature of the attitudes presented, one key unique example being a band performing through destroying a car with a pneumatic drill. In many ways the lengthy nature of the nightclub and protest scenes makes them feel like they’ve come from a completely different film when compared with the angered dramas of stretched relationships that make up the rest of the piece.

Throughout there are many different relationships that are tested and slightly explored. Aside from the main one between Carlos (Xabiani Ponce de León) and best friend Gera ( José Antonio Toledano), Carlos also finds his family connections become looser and tenser, especially with his mother. As he begins to explore his own identity, in a way that begins to recall Barry Jenkins stunning Moonlight, and the world around him more his attitudes, and even look, gradually begin to change. Unfortunately with so many different themes, ideas and characters there isn’t a great deal of time spent with each one. Meaning that the required connection is never properly formed and the viewer, to an extent, feels slightly left out from the film. This isn’t helped by the relative lack of detail in the characters, despite the fact that there are only one or two main focuses they either feel the same or at least rather basic in their differences, further creating a sense of distance from the audience, meaning that during key scenes there’s no major emotional response or impact.

Although much of the film is rooted in the intended thoughtful, rebellious drama of teenagers discussing the politics of museums and showing their anger through art, political statements, music and nightclub raves there is still an attempt by Sama to inject comedy into his project. However, due to the weight of the drama laughs never really seem to properly lift off the ground, and when seeming attempts appear it almost makes the film seem as if it’s trying to be a comedy, confused about it’s genre and what it’s really trying to delve into.

The main issue with This Is Not Berlin is the fact that it has so much going on it doesn’t know what it wants to focus on. It doesn’t seem to know what’s important and rattles off multiple points and ideas at once, concluding in a, at times, lengthy and rather drawn-out final product. While it has some interesting and unique moments these are often the more brief experimental touches before going back to the winding storyline that instead of layers seems to have been divided into uneven laid out chunks.

Initially seeming like a not quite as good cross between Beats and Moonlight, This Is Not Berlin soon drops its unique and interesting experimental side for something far heavier and overall lacking in detail and character.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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