Mexico City, the mid-1980s: Carlos is 17, sexually curious, slightly confused about what to do with his life, and lacking ambition. His friend takes him to a nightclub, a gay nightclub, and he sees his friend’s older sister, Rita performing in a goth/punk band. For Carlos, this is the moment everything changes; for This Is Not Berlin, not so much.
Directed by Hari Sama, who wrote the script with Rodrigo Ordoñez and Max Zunino, This Is Not Berlin is a by-the-numbers coming-of-age story revolving around Carlos (Xabiani Ponce de León) and the art collective of punk/goth/activists he hooks up with. Some are performance artists, some are hangers-on, and some are just looking for a good time. Rita (Ximena Romo) sings like Patti Smith in a band that makes decent shoegaze. They aren’t very successful, but the music is too accomplished to make their obscurity believable.
And there’s Nico (Mauro Sanchez Navarro), the unofficial leader of the collective. He has eyes for Carlos, but Carlos isn’t sure that’s the path he’s ready to walk down. “Are you guys, homosexual? Bisexual?” he asks. “We’re fun people,” a woman who spends the majority of the movie wearing only a bra responds, “Fun people doing fun things.”
But, with the exception of one scene of rumpy-pumpy and a multi-media demonstration, this group doesn’t seem like a lot of fun. Their times is spent arguing over what is and what is not art, doing drugs without ecstasy or delight, and always returning the club. Mostly, they just dance. “I thought it was about saying something,” Rita says with exhaustion. Then she goes to the bar and gets smashed. Fun times all around.
This Is Not Berlin smacks of autobiography without reflection. “This is not Berlin,” an art critic tells the collective. Or Manchester or New York for that matter. The critic implores the group to stop idolizing other scenes and say something about Mexico. They don’t, and neither does This Is Not Berlin. It just wants to get high and dance to Joy Division.
Directed by Hari Sama
Written by Rodrigo Ordoñez, Hari Sama, Max Zunino
Produced by Ale García, Hari Sama, Antonio Urdapilleta, Verónica Valadez
Starring: Xabiani Ponce de León, Mauro Sanchez Navarro, Ximena Romo
Samuel Goldwyn Films, TV-MA, Running time 115 minutes, Currently in limited release