Carlos and Gera smoking. Photo by Alfredo Altamirano.

This is Not Berlin – Coming of age in a haze of art, sex, music and drugs

‘Esto no es Berlín’

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Hari Sama’s semi-autobiographical new film This is Not Berlin is alive with the vibrant and intoxicating energy of 80’s counter-culture. Here we find the newly emerging punk and new wave scene of 80s Mexico City sweep two teenage friends into an emerging world of art, sex, risk and liberation. Their friendship challenged and changed as identity, sexuality, music, drugs, and art converge on the road to adulthood. Sama’s film understands the delicate yet urgent process of teenage self-discovery. While equally capturing the complexity and risk of adolescent personal development during societal change and growing social rebellion.

While Sama may tread familiar ground in the coming of age genre, his tightly formed portrait of teenage discovery ensures that This is Not Berlin transcends the usual coming of age tropes. Here we find the simmering social anger of youth find a voice in an ocean of art and music. At the same time, the toxic discrimination arising from a growing AIDS epidemic haunts the freedom to protest and grow.

Since childhood, Carlos (Xabiani Ponce de Leon) and Gera (José Antonio Toledano) have been classmates and close friends. Carlos lives with his younger brother and mother, who also suffers from severe depression. In contrast, Gera’s homelife appears to be more stable, with his well to do parents providing for his every need. However, that doesn’t stop Gera from using his entrepreneurial spirit in renting out his dad’s pornographic magazine collection to school friends. But despite their different home lives, Gera and Carlos hold a deep friendship, their differing personalities both complimenting and driving forward their individual hopes and dreams. For example, while Gera engages in school fights, experimenting in anything and everything, Carlos is quiet, thoughtful, and a whiz in mechanical engineering.


However, on sneaking into an underground music club, both boys are about to find their lives, passions and loves thrown into a new exciting and adult world of discovery. Here one night will open the door to a new world of rebellion, politics, drugs, sex and expressionism – a door that will change their friendship forever.

Sama beautifully captures the vulnerability of young people taking their first steps into a new, exciting, yet dangerous world. Here performances beautifully reflect the confusion of entering new groups where adolescent identity changes to thrive and belong. Alfredo Altamirano’s cinematography plays with light and colour in achieving this sense of growth, separation and change – the bright light of teenage adventure and innocence descending into the vivid colours of artistic expression. Meanwhile, the films score ripples with the anger of 80’s punk and new wave.

This is Not Berlin understands the global roots of the movement it depicts. While also demonstrating the critical role of Mexicos avant-garde art movement in changing the landscape of 80’s Mexican youth culture. The result is a film that buzzes with the excitement and danger of counter-culture, alongside the importance of artistic expression in social development.

Director: Hari Sama

Cast: Xabiani Ponce de Leon, Jose Antonio Toledano, Ximena Romo, Mauro Sanchez Navarro, Klaudia Garcia,

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