“This Is Not Berlin”
Mexican Society from an Adolescent Point of View
Hari Sama’s “This Is Not Berlin” is a politically fearless, individual, and subversive film that showcases a period of Mexico’s society from an adolescent perspective. The film pulls pansexuality and identity into the anger of those dissatisfied with the way things are. The director is hungry, pointed, and gives us an avant-garde portrait of youth finding their people. It’s a coming-of-age for those who are marginalized, underrepresented, “weird,” and outliers.
We meet Carlos (Xabiani Ponce de León) when he’s standing aimlessly amid a horde of classmates clashing and having a brawl with rival school boys as they mean to prove some sort of machismo upper hand. It’s 1986, the World Cup tournament is taking place and for Carlos this marks the time in which the world will suddenly shake to evolve him. He enjoys simmering in boredom with his best friend Gera (José Antonio Toledano), staring at his friend’s older, much cooler, sister Rita (Ximena Romo). His mother (Marina de Tevira) medicates herself daily and is the background although she walks away with every scene she’s in. When Carlos uses his homegrown engineering abilities to fix a synthesizer for Rita’s punk band, the two friends are suddenly allowed to enter i the underground venue Azteca, a smoky, gender-liberated dive where drugs, sex, and alcohol are alive and well. Soon Carlos and Gera are tantalized by the underbelly culture scene that will define who they are.
The striking performance art sequences. and the electrifying, energetic music, the film looks at forms of repression, that of the weak, the forgotten, and the tired. When this comes together with Carlos and Gera’s sexual awakenings, we see what happens. The new social scene leaves Gera and Carlos a on opposite sides of the orbit as one struggles with his identity while the other may just be looking to fit in. When Rita recites the poetry of Patti Smith in class, there’s a demonstration forming in the narrative that’s radical. She calls her own shots, her own battles, and her own devilishly cool lyrical outcries as a form of protest against the status quo. They’re the pioneers of their own liberties in a time that so scornfully rejects them.
As Carlos to use his body and mind in the performance arts, he strips naked on the streets covered in red paint that reads “Gay!,” it liberates him in ways that only this closely knit group of friends would understand, which in turn causes tension with Gera, who really wants to belong. For Carlos, it was his uncle (Hari Sama) who entertained his creativity while his dad wasn’t around. He’s a motorcyclist and was probably a hippie in his heyday. He is a role model to Carlos and tells him to live freely, with no regrets or contempt. What Carlos does with this urgency of identity is up to him but it comes with its own consequences. The film is told through lmoments of self-reflecting overdose, fearless demonstrations, and electrifying music. We see sexual promiscuity and over-the-top dissents allowing only its true colors and queer identities to guide it. With a cast that is both beautiful and talented, we get a colorful, literate and enjoyable film.
Director Sama loves the creativity of his actors and what they bring to the film, exploring personal angst and sexual prowess. The film will likely be unnerving to some, but if you like “artsy, sexual deliverance in revolt”, this is a movie you do not want to miss. This is a wild take on the coming-of-age story.
We meet Carlos as an aspiring engineer of sorts. Under the tutelage of his cool uncle Esteban (Sama). He learns how to fix and build small machines, and repairs Rita’s surly boyfriend’s synthesizer. Nico (Mauro Sánchez Navarro), the relatively older but still young proprietor of Azteca wants Carlos’ and Gera’s first dalliances with the Azteca to be their final ones because they’re underage. The best-friend pair keeps returning, however, and they endear themselves to the crowd, integrating themselves into a lifestyle of sex-driven art, hard drugs, queries of their own sexualities and political activism.
“This Is Not Berlin” celebrates the (sexual and artistic) counter-cultural liberation of the punk scene in the ’80s. Sama’s storytelling is extraordinary and transcends the trappings of typical rite-of-passage films by way of its content’s extremities. For some, Carlos’ journey may be relatable—but even so, the film’s sexy and salacious scenes conjure excitement about its anarchism.
The non-normative sexuality of the film can be seen as understated in the film. Amid the conservative climate of Mexico in the ’80s, homosexual acts and queer signifiers were quite risky yet the way this film depicts its punky group is how the people on which it is based expressed themselves in real life. The ending of “This Is Not Berlin” is one that could only be inspired by real life.
The outcasts from “civilized” society are what every generation needs to wake itself from. There is no place for complacency and for the oppression of a political and economic hierarchy dictated by race, gender, and sexuality. The events onscreen are semi-autobiographical for Sama and this is a document of the turmoil that the and others his age faced when external expectations and internal hopes clashed. At its center is love that can together opposite and/or tear us apart.