Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Movie with Abe: This Is Not Berlin

This Is Not Berlin
Directed by Hari Sama
Released August 25, 2019

Every society goes through many changes over the course of a given period of time, and it’s not always easy to predict what will happen next or when. Young people are especially prone to feeling like they don’t fit in and need to part of a more progressive future, and being a member of a certain community at the right time can be exceptionally transformational. That outlet may not be inherently accessible, and engaging with it can lead to a withdrawal from the previously comfortable and more initially formative life, necessitating a choice in where a person’s direction is headed.

Carlos (Xabiani Ponce de León) is seventeen in Mexico City in 1986, feeling unsatisfied with his troublemaking friends at school and yearning for freedom from his mother and younger brother at home. He experiences something unexpected when he and his best friend Gera (José Antonio Toledano) accompany Gera’s older sister Rita (Ximena Romo) to a nightclub that opens his eyes to something he never imagined. An introduction to the enigmatic, passionate artist Nico (Mauro Sanchez Navarro) shows him the seemingly limitless scope of discovery just waiting for him, pulling him away from everything he knows towards something dazzling and mysterious.

This film gets its title from a scene in which Nico’s attempt at avant-garde artwork is decried because, as everyone is well aware, Mexico City is not Berlin, hardly an established cultural center of the world. Yet the times are very much changing, and Carlos is right in the middle of that, becoming involved in protests against the government and finding ways to express himself that are more than just theoretical or artistic. Watching how Carlos changes – both physically and emotionally – serves to tell most of this film’s story, with the specific plot points and supporting characters merely tangential to the making of a new man who looks and feels unlike the teenager first seen at the start of the film.

This is an immersive experience, one that puts the audience in the place of its protagonist and allows him to see the world opening up in front of him as he does, watching influences like Rita and Nico and trying to become like them. Each of the actors contributes plentifully, namely Ponce de León in his first major film role. This film played successfully at the Sundance and Tribeca Film Festivals, and serves as a solid arthouse effort to capture a moment in time that is decidedly specific yet feels appropriately universal.


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