Mexico City, 1986: the country is swept up in FIFA World Cup fever, and tensions are running high. Teenage schoolboys fight each other, and the violence of it makes Carlos (Xabiani Ponce De Leon) faint. Beginning with the exposition of This is Not Berlin (Esto no es Berlín), the camera stays close to its protagonist, immediately creating an intimate connection which is upheld throughout the film, as Carlos and his best friend Gera (Jose Antonio Toledano) get swept up with the underground punk rock scene.
Director and writer Hari Sama (who appears on screen as well) uses his own experience to recreate this particular time and place with a great sense of quasi-autobiographic authenticity. From the beginning, music is used to set the mood: veering between popular American music and the contentious Spanish lyrics of original punk songs, interspersed with classical string compositions – the soundtrack reflects the contrast between Carlos’s drab home life and the new, more exciting spaces he discovers.
The two boys are soon drawn into the crowd frequenting the notorious club “The Azteca”, where Gera’s older sister Rita (Ximena Romo) plays on stage with her band, angrily criticizing the status quo. While Gera is hesitantly fascinated by the overt display of homosexual attraction, Carlos soon commits fully to the group of artists housed above the club. Before long, he shaves part of his long and floppy hair, and takes part in provocative art installations. Here, Sama uses occasional grainy black and white Super 8 footage, blurring the line between the film itself and the art shown in it.
To tell the story of Carlos and his exploration of identity, Sama expertly draws on the full potential of the cinematic medium. This combined with impressive performances from the young actors turns This is Not Berlin into an extraordinarily immersive viewing experience.
CAST: Xabiani Ponce de León, José Antonio Toledano, Ximena Romo, Mauro Sánchez Navarro, Klaudia García, Marina de Tavira
DIRECTOR: Hari Sama
WRITER: Rodrigo Ordóñez, Hari Sama, Max Zunino
SYNOPSIS: Mexico, 1986: sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll. When Carlos and Gera are introduced to the legendary nightclub “The Azteca”, the boys discover a whole new world of ecstasy, drugs, and queer performance art.