Set against the background of the 1986 Mexico World Cup This is Not Berlin throws together a cast of creative misfits who are trying to change themselves, or the world, into something that works better for them. The drama is serious without being somber as sobriety is thrown up into the gutter during the chaotic quest to force social change.
Starting with a quote from Proust “Our family hands down to us the ideas that will keep us alive and the illnesses that will cause death” a tension is set between the culture that helps people survive and that which lets them thrive. But before it gets too heavy we are thrown into the wild, authentic grit of the Mexican artsy alternative nightclub scene that perfectly captures a slice of angst ridden 80s music and fashion.
Carlos (Xabiani Ponce de León) is a moody, slightly androgynous, handsome nerd with a talent for electronics that helps him winnow his way into the synth loving video arts crowd. At first being part of that crowd is an excuse to hang out with his best friend Gera (Jose Antonio Toledano) and follow his crush on Gera’s sister Rita (Ximena Romo). As it begins to help him escape his suffocating home and school life his relationships with them are eclipsed by the temptations of the febrile artistic community.
The nightlife crowd bring their own set of hedonistic dramas via drug addiction, promiscuity and petty jealousy. They also provide the film make with the opportunity to showcase the new wave art of the period, with its mixture of performance, street protest and political intervention. In this case the call for revolt is to overthrow the toxic machismo of homophobic Mexican culture, symbolized by the World Cup, made necessary by the looming threat of pre medication AIDS. The art based ACTUP style street protests are captured in visually shocking glory, as one of the characters remarks “It is impossible to start a revolution with a painting”.
There is much exploration of the role of art and politics but the script manages to avoid sounding like a manifesto. It stays embraced to the humanity of the central characters as they realize that becoming themselves need not be the same as becoming selfish. The compelling performances create a realistic balance between their need to fit in and their desire to stand out. Carlos, who lost his connection to his earlier friends and his family, ends up creating a new family with Gera promoted to brother. He concludes that successful liberation through political art is not an alternative to connecting with others because ‘What matters is doing stuff and hanging around with people who make you feel less lonely”
This is not Berlin, directed by Hari Sama is a serious drama with a point of view on art and politics but the realistic 80s energy, soundtrack and style ensure that the pace is as vibrant as the nightlife it captures.