‘This Is Not Berlin’ Review: Coming of Age, Haphazardly, in ’80s Mexico City

IndieWire | 8/10/2019 | Staff
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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.

Using the underground avant-garde art scene as its backdrop and a wayward teenage boy as its protagonist, “This Is Not Berlin” renders the follies of youth through a kaleidoscopic phantasma of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. Despite all the compelling decoration, however, there are few surprises.

Story - Carlos - Xabiani - Ponce - De

The story follows Carlos (Xabiani Ponce De León), a fatherless teen who who watches his little brother as his mother (“Roma” star Marina de Tavira) stays in bed hungover all day. He spends his days participating in massive group fights with other boys, and fawning over dirty magazines with his best friend Gera (Jose Antonio Toledano), who has a clever side hustle renting out his father’s secret stash to classmates. Naturally, Carlos lusts after Gera’s alternative older sister Rita (Ximena Romo), and the friends are thrilled when they’re finally able to convince Rita to take them out one night. Against her better judgement, she sneaks them into an underground club called the Aztec, a hedonistic den of sexual freedom where the substances flow and the music is loud.

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 **** bar?” Gera asks his sister, to which she replies coolly: “It’s an everything bar.” Later, he’ll deliver this same missive to the...
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