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20th April 2020

¡Viva! 2020: Esto no es Berlín

This Is Not Berlin is a sensual portrait of Mexico’s underground scene amid the social and political turmoil of the 1980s, writes Michal Wasilewski
¡Viva! 2020: Esto no es Berlín
Photo: Stephen Downes @ flickr

Just like Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, Hari Sama’s Esto no es Berlín (This Is Not Berlin) takes us to Mexico City in times of great social and political unrest of the 1980s. While the football World Cup is taking place in the country, getting attention from millions of people around the globe, Mexican teenagers try to live their ordinary lives at the heart of this turmoil.

17-year-old Carlos (Xabiani Ponce de León) and his best friend Gera (José Antonio Toledano) have never spent much time thinking about social or political issues. They dream of partying, engage in fights with students of the enemy school, and try to earn money by renting porn magazines to their classmates — but their lives are about to change, as one night Gera’s sister invites them to an underground club.

The world full of alcohol, drugs, and sexual emancipation opens right in front of Carlos and Gera. Never before have they even acknowledged an existence of such liberation and now they immediately become engrossed in it. 

The film’s title may imply the Mexican underground scene’s claims of independence. Their clubs don’t try to recreate the Berlin club scene, and the partygoers don’t want to be seen as an equivalent to the Germans or to anyone else. They create their own avant-garde art and aim at spreading a deeply personal message. They don’t try to imitate, they simply want to express themselves and live freely.

Once the party ends, who do these people become? The anonymity of everyone apart from Carlos and Gera invites us to take a closer look at how it all influences the two teenagers. Their everyday life and the relationships with people around them change dramatically, and ultimately so does their friendship. 

Hari Sama puts us in the protagonists’ shoes, as we eagerly await another set of wonderfully-shot, hypnotising party sequences filled with nudity and sensuality. But what is left for us when these end? This Is Not Berlin lacks in substance, and touches many topics so lightly that they will likely be overlooked in a provocative sexual maze.

Somewhere between Gaspar Noe’s Climax and Jan Komasa’s Suicide Room, Esto no es Berlín takes its audience to another world, radically different from the everyday reality. Soaking in this world is a truly unique experience, but the main conclusion left is how much potential was wasted.


Michal Wasilewski

Michal Wasilewski

Managing Editor of Culture for The Mancunion.

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