Set in 1986, writer and director Hari Sama’s newest film This is Not Berlin follows Carlos (Xabiani Ponce de Leon) a teen trying to find his own place in a world that doesn’t seem to have a place for him. He and his best friend Gera (Jose Antonion Toldano) attend Catholic school in the suburbs of Mexico City. Carlos is disinterested in his soccer friends’ rivalry with another school. Instead he spends his time tinkering with electronics, hanging out with Gera and getting advice from his uncle Esteban (Hari Sama).
One day Gera’s sister Rita (Ximena Romo), the lead singer of a local punk band takes the two friends to a club, as a thank you to Carlos for helping fix her synthesizer. Both Carlos and Gera are thrust into the underworld of Mexico City. The drug and booze fueled scene is where rebellious youths escape for the freedom to express their sexuality. There Carlos meets Nico (Mauro Sanchez Navarro), a photographer who is attracted to Carlos. Through Nicho, Carlos becomes part of a community of artists whose unconventional forms of artistic expression including outlandish performance art. As Carlos and Gera drift apart and tragedy befalls Carlos’ family, will his newfound rebellion help him find his true self? Or will it keep him away from what truly matters?
This is Not Berlin is inspired by director Hari Sama’s teenage years in Lomas Verdes, a suburb in Mexico. About the writing process, Sama says “the research took me to painful places of my adolescence but also allowed me to revisit the moments that made me a filmmaker and musician.”
One of my favorite aspects of the film was Sama’s role as Esteban, Carlos’ uncle, mentor and confidante. Esteban seems to be the only one in Carlos’ who truly understands his struggles. They have some wonderful moments together and some deep philosophical discussions.
“Have you ever felt like you want something but there’s something inside you that won’t let you do it? Like a voice that doesn’t shut up and it’s not even yours.”
“Love is very wacky… but when you find it, when you have that moment of silence with someone… taking that leap is worth it.”
Had the plot shifted and focused more on the friendship with Carlos and Gera with Esteban as the anchor, essentially making in a buddy movie, it would have been a stronger movie. Like Y Tu Mama Tambien but with a much different ending. I was particularly drawn to the theme of loyalty and the difference between those who stick around and those who abandon you when times get tough.
This is Not Berlin is a deep exploration of artistic expression and finding your true self. The opening scene is quite breathtaking. Carlos stands in the middle of a fight between the two rival Catholic school soccer teams. It’s clear that Carlos is lost in the chaos around him. He doesn’t participate in the fight and eventually it overwhelms him. The performance art scenes are quite provocative. I hope we see a lot more from Hari Sama.
This is Not Berlin recently premiered at Sundance and had it’s New York premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.